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Join Date: Oct 2004
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Here's a Hawk article for the stragglers
Should be first LB since 2000 to go in top 10By Len Pasquarelli
Not since the Washington Redskins chose LaVar Arrington with the second overall pick in 2000 has there been a linebacker selected among the top five prospects in the draft. For that matter, Arrington was the last linebacker to earn top-10 draft status, despite the fact five of the last six defensive rookies of the year, including the last three, came from the position.
Confused about the seeming dichotomy of the situation? Well, queue up right behind A.J. Hawk of Ohio State, the man at the front of the line among the linebacker prospects for this year's draft. Hawk almost certainly will end the drought for top-five linebackers and, if the universally flattering assessments of his abilities are accurate, he'll probably extend the rookie-of-the-year streak for linebackers, as well.
And maybe help regain some of the old respect for the onetime glamour position.
"It does seem, for whatever reason, that teams don't use the real high first-round picks on linebackers anymore," Hawk noted last week. "To me, it's still a position where you can make an impact, and on every play. Maybe they can [rationalize] it somehow, but I can't figure it out."
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
A.J. Hawk figures to be the first or second defensive player selected in the draft.
The reluctance of franchises to invest top-10 selections on linebackers might be one of the few mysteries to which Hawk can't conjure up an explanation. He has prototype size (6-foot-1, 248 pounds) and exceptional quickness (a 4.45-second 40 at his pro-day audition), and he possesses a superb combination of athletic skills, but Hawk's most notable attribute might be his innate football instincts.
Watch him on tape, and Hawk -- the latest in the long lineage of great Buckeyes linebackers -- seems to never take a misstep in getting to the ball. There is a precision and economy to his game that actually becomes disarming and occasionally subjugates just how explosive a player he can be. Make no mistake, though, everyone in the league seems to know how productive Hawk might be, even as a rookie.
In fact, there are two names that personnel directors and scouts keep mentioning as the most "sure things" in the 2006 draft. Virginia left offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson is one, and Hawk is the other. Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage termed Hawk the "safest pick" in the draft. One defensive coordinator from an NFC team that drafts way too low to ever have a shot at Hawk suggested last week the former OSU star will someday be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There might be some hyperbole in all those 24-karat analyses, but not much, judging by the awe with which scouts and coaches speak of him.
"He is," Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said, "the real thing."
And, the recent draft history of linebackers notwithstanding, he is going to be off the board quickly. There are rumblings that the New Orleans Saints, who have the second overall choice, love Hawk but are anxious about taking him so high. But if Hawk is, indeed, the highest-rated defender on the Saints' board, they probably need to grab him. New Orleans has been attempting for years to shore up a suspect linebacker corps.
The New York Jets, with the fourth pick, and Green Bay, in the No. 5 slot, are also strongly considering Hawk.
No matter where he goes, Hawk is a lock to be the highest-selected linebacker since Arrington, the three-time Pro Bowl performer whose career has been sidetracked by injuries the past two seasons. Arrington was one of two top-10 linebackers in the 2000 draft, with Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears chosen ninth overall that year.
Since that 2000 draft, the linebacker chosen highest was Carolina's Dan Morgan, the 11th overall pick in 2001. The highest linebackers in the past four drafts were: Napoleon Harris of Oakland (23rd in 2002), Green Bay's Nick Barnett (29th in 2003), Jonathan Vilma of the Jets (12th in 2004) and Shawne Merriman of San Diego (12th in 2005). That's an average first-round slot, in the last four drafts, of No. 19.
Outside of Hawk, the linebackers with first-round grades on most boards include Florida State's Ernie Sims, Alabama's DeMeco Ryans, Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter and Iowa's Chad Greenway. Two college defensive ends, NC State's Manny Lawson and Florida State's Kamerion Wimbley, are projected by 3-4 teams to play linebacker but are more hybrid-style players.
None of those prospects, though, is even close to Hawk in the estimation of league scouts. At most positions in the draft, there is at least some debate about who the top prospect might be. There is no such quarrel at linebacker, where every personnel director or general manager surveyed cites Hawk as the unchallenged No. 1 guy.
And why not? He is the first player to lead Ohio State in tackles for three consecutive seasons (2003-05) since Steve Tovar in 1990-92. Hawk was a three-time All-Big Ten selection, twice earned conference defensive player of the year honors and was a consensus All-American each of the last two years. His college rÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â©sumÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â© is every bit as impressive as that of some of the players who comprise the Buckeyes' great linebacker lineage (such as Tom Cousineau, Randy Gradishar and Chris Spielman).
It isn't as if Hawk is the biggest hitter (although he might be) in the linebacker pool. He's not the fastest candidate at the position, isn't the best blitzer or the top coverage defender. But he does so many things well, and does them with such high proficiency and with such well-honed recognition skills, that he is head and shoulders above the competition.
And then there is his versatility. Hawk can play any linebacker position in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front and, truth be told, about the only question concerning him is exactly where he'll line up in the NFL. Some feel that his best spot might be as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 front. Others insist that weakside linebacker in a 4-3 will be where he makes the most impact. Rest assured, he'll be ready to play no matter where the team that takes him decides to employ him.
"I think desire, wanting to be the best at every phase of the game, is a part of my makeup," Hawk said. "And preparation is really big with me, too. I try to study hard and watch a lot of tape. When I get on the field, I don't want to have any doubts swirling around in my head about what's going on out there. It's a hard enough position to play without being mentally ready to play it. And I think getting to that point is one of my strengths."
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“ It does seem, for whatever reason, that teams don't use the real high first-round picks on linebackers anymore. To me, it's still a position where you can make an impact, and on every play. Maybe they can [rationalize] it somehow, but I can't figure it out.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬?
Whatever doubters there were about Hawk going into the scouting combine workouts in February -- and there weren't very many skeptics -- were pleasantly surprised that a prospect already a lock for a top-10 spot actually completed the full battery of drills. His results brought scouts out of their seats at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Hawk was clocked at 4.59 in the 40 (the 4.45 time came at his on-campus workout), at 3.96 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle drill and 6.02 seconds in the three-cone drill. His vertical jump was 40 inches, he had a long jump of 9 feet, 7 inches and hoisted the bench press for 24 repetitions.
"But it's all the other stuff, too, the finer points of the game, that make him even more special," noted Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson. "You can tell he loves the weight room. He talks about football with a real passion. And when you watch him play, just the way he uses his hands to get off blocks, the way he is drawn to the ball, those are things that are the mark of special players."
It's going to take such a special player to change the minds of teams about the linebacker position, which, over the past decade, has been devalued by scouts. The emphasis now is on getting people who can either knock down the quarterback or, failing that, knock down the pass. End, tackle and cornerback are the new premium positions, and there exists a notion that linebackers simply don't make enough game-altering plays. Indeed, the one area in which Hawk wants to improve, he noted, is his pass rush.
Still, he had 15 sacks in four seasons, including 9ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½ in 2005, and six interceptions. Those numbers augur that Hawk will be a three-down defender, another component that enhances his stock. Part of the ebb in value at the linebacker position is that teams are reluctant to invest heavily in two-down players -- guys who come off the field for situation substitution packages on third down.
Like the linebacker he most tries to emulate, Zach Thomas of the Miami Dolphins, Hawk doesn't leave the field. He plays every snap and plays every snap hard.
"People say I'm a little bit of a throwback," Hawk said. "I definitely take that as a compliment. I just love the game. I love to compete. There's definitely some football purist in me. I like the traditional stuff."
How traditional is he? Well, consider this: Hawk is engaged to the sister of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who could be the top overall selection in next year's draft. In honor of the Irish traditions of the Quinn family, the wedding is set for St. Patrick's Day next year.
By that time, Hawk will have snapped the top-10 drought for linebackers. And he'll have banked a big enough signing bonus to make the wedding reception a memorable bash.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .