Sometimes as a writer, in order to catch the reader's attention and sounding boring, a clever lead-in can be useful. When talking about Ohio State outside linebacker A.J. Hawk, no such introduction is necessary. Simply put, Hawk is one of the best players available in the 2006 NFL Draft and is without question an elite prospect.
Hawk was a four-year starter at linebacker for Centerville High School in Centerville, Ohio, where he also played punter. He finished his high school career with 585 tackles, including 142 as a freshman, 192 as a sophomore and 169 as a junior. Despite an injury that forced him to miss much of his senior campaign, Hawk totaled 82 tackles. He declined a scholarship offer from Penn State to become a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
As a true freshman in 2002, Hawk was primarily a backup to starting weakside linebacker Cie Grant - a third-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in 2003. He made his first career start and had five tackles against Penn State. Hawk's best performance came against Kent State, when he had 3.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions, returning one 34 yards for a score.
Hawk made an immediate impact in his first year starting for the Buckeyes, leading the team with 105 tackles. He had four games with double-digit tackle totals, including the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. In the team's 34-20 double overtime victory over the Miami Hurricanes, Hawk was named defensive MVP.
In 2004, Hawk finished second in the Big Ten Conference with 141 tackles. He set a career high with 20 stops against Wisconsin and averaged 11.8 tackles per game. Following the season, he was named an All-American by multiple publications and earned the Buckeyes defensive MVP award.
As a senior in 2005, Hawk helped the Buckeyes to a 10-2 record. He led the team in tackles for the third consecutive season, this time with 121 stops. He also added 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception on the year. For the second time in his collegiate career, Hawk won the defensive MVP award of the Fiesta Bowl in the team's 34-20 win over No. 5 Notre Dame. In the game, which would be his last as a member of the Buckeyes, Hawk was his usual self, racking up 12 tackles and two sacks.
This past season, Hawk teamed with fellow seniors Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel - both prospects in the NFL Draft - to form one of the best groups of linebackers in college football. As good as the other two members of the trio are, Hawk managed to stand out. After an award-winning college career, Hawk is poised to make a big splash at the next level.
You know how some guys are described as having a nose for the football? That is Hawk. He is a very smart player with good football intelligence. Wherever the ball is, you can rest assured Hawk is nearby and often the one making the play. One would be hard pressed to find a defender that is more of a sure tackler than Hawk.
Aside from his main duties as a tackler, Hawk is also a skilled coverage guy. For a guy that weighs nearly 250 pounds, his speed is quite striking. At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Hawk ran a 4.59 40-yard dash. At Ohio State's Pro Day in early March, Hawk posted 40-yard dash times of 4.49 and 4.42, though this was accomplished on artificial turf.
A lot of guys in the NFL can tackle. A lot of guys can cover. However, not many do those things as well as Hawk, nor do they have the intangibles to go along with them. Hawk is natural leader and as hard a worker as you will find.
When discussing a player of Hawk's caliber, finding any glaring weaknesses in his game proves to be a near impossible task.
At 6-foot-1, Hawk is slightly below ideal height for the position. If guys under 6-foot-0 like London Fletcher (Buffalo Bills) and Zach Thomas (Miami Dolphins) can dominate as they do, Hawk should have no problem.
Trying to find major faults in Hawk's game is simply nitpicking. If you insist on being hypercritical, it is true that Hawk lacks the ability to fly, see through walls and make a person's head explode just by looking at them. In those respects, he comes up short.
April 29, Hawk will be the first outside linebacker taken in what is a very deep class at the position. The most likely suitor are the Green Bay Packers at No. 5, and fortunately for the Packers, it is unrealistic he gets picked before their turn.
Hawk is a perfect fit for a Packers defense that ranked 23rd against the run in 2005 and is especially lacking at outside linebacker. Weakside linebacker Robert Thomas was disappointing after coming over from the Rams, and recently signed strongside linebacker Ben Taylor from the Cleveland Browns is mediocre at best.
In Hawk, the Packers would gain an instant starter and a player that could be a fixture in the team's defense for the next decade.
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