Are the Packers getting enough out of linebacker A.J. Hawk considering he was a No. 5 overall draft pick?
After penning a column questioning Hawk's value on this web site during the 2006 Draft (see http://gnb.scout.com/2/525941.html), I received several emails critical of my stance and several in agreement. Perhaps I was playing devil's advocate analyzing a pick that seemed so right, but I just thought that the Packers needed a true impact player at that spot in the draft. Is Hawk that guy?
Historically, linebackers taken in the top five fail to live up to their billing, and although I thought Hawk was a good pick, I had some doubts whether he would have an immediate effect as a playmaker. Sure, he showed it at Ohio State, but top linebacker talent can be tough to evaluate coming to the pro level.
With Hawk now about to enter his third year in the NFL, I have mixed feelings. While he has been a great addition to the Packers and is the furthest thing from a bust, he still seems to have more to offer – though it is not necessarily his fault. The Packers' coaching staff needs to help him get to that next level.
Until now, the staff has failed to take full advantage of Hawk's talent. He has been put in safer spots playing simple defensive schemes, a role which many linebackers around the league could play close to a similar level.
Last year, Hawk had 129 total tackles. His rookie year he had 155. Those are outstanding numbers, but how many of those tackles have made an impact in games? Has Hawk been in the best position to make game-changing plays? Not really.
Hawk can and should do better than just the 15.5 impact plays (six tackles for loss, four-and-half sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles) he has made in his first 32 NFL regular season games. The nature of his position in the Packers' defensive system might just be holding him back.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders has lacked creativity in the past couple of years, more often then not letting his base defense and man-to-man pass coverage do its work. The results have been solid, if not spectacular like many expected. A player like Hawk can help get to spectacular – by blitzing more and being put in more play-making positions.
Hawk has already shown that he has the fundamentals down and is assignment sure. His tackling is as good as anyone's on the team and he rarely gives up big plays because of his own mistakes.
This season Hawk needs to be cut loose and allowed to take some chances, almost in a similar manner to middle linebacker Nick Barnett. Because if Hawk has shown anything his first couple of years, it is that he was born to play linebacker.
The sense in listening to Hawk speak is that he can and wants to do more. All he needs are more opportunities. Hopefully he will get them this year.