The Texans were being blasted before NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue even entered Radio City Music Hall for inking a deal the night before to make defensive end Mario Williams and not running back Reggie Bush the No. 1 overall pick. Then the Saints, who already have a talented back in Deuce McAllister, took Bush with the second pick (finally a guy named Bush who might actually do something for New Orleans). There wasn't even a consensus in the Tennessee organization when the Titans took quarterback Vince Young, and the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets took Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson rather than trade up for Bush, or gamble on a quarterback. As usual, their fans were booing before a name was even announced. You gotta love Jets fans.
Then came the fifth pick. And with the temptation of Maryland tight end/man-beast Vernon Davis, quarterback's Matt Leinhart and Jay Cutler, not to mention the ringing of trade offers from the NFL teams slotted below them, Green Bay made a pick that's as close to perfection as they come -- Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk.
If there is such a thing as a consensus among NFL general managers it's that Hawk was the safest pick on the board. Not safe in the ‘not a big upside, but not a big downside' way, but safe in the ‘can't miss' sort of way. Safe in the way that he's not only expected to be an immediate starter, but an immediate impact player, a probable Defensive Rookie of the Year and possible Pro Bowler.
That's a lot of praise and a lot of pressure, but anyone who's seen the 6-foot-1, 248-pounder streaking across football fields for the past three years would be hard-pressed to dispute it. Hawk led his Buckeyes team in tackles for three years running and has been described as the best linebacker prospect of the past five years, drawing comparisons to former Lions great Chris Spielman and Junior Seau for not only his playmaking ability, but for his passion, intensity and leadership.
Certainly Ted Thompson sees that potential in Hawk. The normally stoic Packer GM seemed almost giddy (well, giddy for him) when he spoke about his newest addition to the defense. He smiled a lot and even mentioned how he did a lot of praying the night before. The latter falls under the ‘God, family and the Green Bay Packers' mantra that Vince Lombardi laid down back in the day. And speaking of Lombardi, Hawk won the Lombardi Trophy following his senior season at OSU. How perfect is that?
Hawk becomes the highest drafted linebacker since the Washington Redskins took LaVar Arrington with the second overall pick in the 2000 draft. Arrington, of course, just turned down an offer to join the Packers as a free agent, making Green Bay's selection of Hawk all the more pressing. A player who could line up at any of the three linebacker spots in the Packers 4-3 scheme, Hawk will get first crack at the weak side position next to middle linebacker and 2003 first round pick, Nick Barnett. The possibility exists, however, that the two could switch spots. Wherever he lines up, his 4.4 speed, sure tackling and uncanny ability for being around the ball should result in the kind of big plays and turnovers that this unit has been sorely lacking. And his versatility means he'll be on the field for every defensive snap, regardless of the situation.
Off the field, Hawk is a small town, humble, Midwestern guy who skipped the glitz and media circus of New York and NFL Draft weekend to be around his family when the biggest call of his life came. In fact, the only face time the long-haired linebacker got was when he was seen racing around on those new Under Armour cleat commercials. That kind of attitude and outlook will endear him to Packer fans as much as his sacks and tackles for loss will.
Thompson reminded everyone that the Packers went through a lot of pain and heartache to ‘earn' the No. 5 pick and had to get a player of Hawk's caliber. He stopped short of calling this a perfect pick, but you've got to admit it's pretty close.
W. Keith Roerdink is a regular contributor to Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.