NFL general managers have a way of saying this kind of thing every year but in the case of drafting linebacker A.J. Hawk of Ohio State, you get the feeling that Thompson really means it. In using Green Bay's number-one pick to select Hawk, Thompson and his staff believe they are getting a player who will step in and make an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball.
Hawk is a 6-foot-1, 245-pound defensive monster who simply does not quit. He can play all three linebacker positions. He's a vicious tackler who always seems to arrive at the ball with an attitude. He's been compared to the likes of the Bears' Brian Urlacher, the Ravens' Ray Lewis and even to old school legends like Ray Nitschke. Tough, uncompromising with a nasty streak. A small-town guy with strong Midwestern values. In short, a perfect fit for the Green Bay Packers.
"We felt like it was a really good choice and a good fit for this team," said Thompson. "He qualified in almost every area of the criteria we were looking at and I was really excited to get him. There were a number of players in this draft that we felt were worthy of being taken. I felt like this was the best fit and I've felt that way for some time now. He was by far the best athlete at the linebacker position in this draft."
For his part, Hawk said all the right things while addressing the media in a conference call shortly after his selection.
"I've grown up watching the Packers for a long time," Hawk said. "I have a lot of respect for the history, the tradition and everything about Lambeau Field. I think it's a good fit because I come from Ohio State where we have great tradition. Green Bay is a football town just like Columbus is here. I'm excited to get up there and get to work."
And work is what this guy does best. Regarded by many as the best defensive player in college football, Hawk is a two-time All-American who was a model of consistency throughout his Buckeye career. He led his team in tackles in each of this three seasons as a starter to take his rightful place alongside an impressive list of Ohio State linebackers that includes the likes of Randy Gradisher, Tom Cousineau, Chris Spielman, Andy Katzenmoyer and Na'il Diggs. Hawk ranks fifth on the school's career-record list with 394 tackles and he joined Steve Tovar and Marcus Marek as the only players to lead the team in tackles for three straight seasons. He became only the ninth player in Buckeye history to record 20 tackles in a game (20 vs. Wisconsin in 2004) and he had at least ten tackles in eighteen games. In 2005, Hawk made the All-Big Ten Conference first team and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year by the media. He led OSU with 121 tackles (69 solo) and 16.5 stops for losses and 9.5 sacks to capture the Lombardi Trophy and team MVP award.
While not wishing to compare Hawk to linebackers currently in the NFL, Packer defensive coordinator Bob Sanders was obviously excited about the qualities Hawk will bring to his defense.
"He's an extremely talented, ball-hawking player," said Sanders. "He brings a lot of toughness and he doesn't get off the field. He chases the ball hard and he's an excellent hitter. He can play all of the positions but we'll start him on the weak side. He brings a level of toughness, tackling ability and speed that we like to have."
Beyond all the stats and hype, what stands out to many – and what die-hard Packer fans are sure to embrace - is Hawk's blue collar work ethic. Plenty of substance but not a lot of glitz. Case in point? Hawk decided he didn't need all the hoopla of going to New York for the NFL draft, opting instead to spend the weekend with his family to relax and enjoy the moment with them at home.
The Packer linebackers haven't been known for making big plays or sporting a healthy nastiness for quite some time. Hawk is nasty. He splatters people. If he lives up to his potential, Packer fans are in for a serious treat.
Tom Andrews began covering the Packers in 1974 as a reporter for Milwaukee radio stations WZUU and WOKY. He has been a contributing writer to Packer Report since 1999 and his articles have also appeared in the Green Bay Packers Yearbook, Packer Profiles, Packer Tracker and Sports Collectors Digest among other publications. Andrews is also president of Andrews Media Ventures, a Milwaukee area media and communications consultancy. Email him at email@example.com.