Coming into the 2006 NFL Draft, linebacker A.J. Hawk was called by many draft experts the "surest thing" in that year's draft.
A "sure thing," as in someone who will undoubtedly succeed in the NFL and become an elite player for years to come.
Now that Hawk is entering his fifth season with the Green Bay Packers, let's take a look at how this "sure thing" has done thus far.
In a word? Mediocre. Given that Hawk had increased expectations going into his rookie year as a top-five draft pick, Hawk has shown flashes but is nowhere near the player most people thought he would be at this point.
That's why entering 2010, Hawk is the Packers player on the hottest seat.
Yes, I am aware of defensive end Justin Harrell, but he arguably should have been let go last year. Hawk has actually seen significant playing time (he has started every single game the past four years) so he has enough reps, something Harrell definitely does not have.
Coming out of college, all the scouts were ranting and raving about Hawk's work ethic. It no doubt carried over to the pro game, but that work ethic hasn't turned into spectacular statistics or in Hawk being a true difference maker on defense like second year man Clay Matthews.
While Hawk recorded over 100 tackles his first two seasons, he has been in the 80s the past two seasons in which one year was played in a 4-3 and one in the 3-4. His sack total has also been disappointing with his high being 3.5 his rookie year.
Speaking of schemes, did the Packers' change to a 3-4 last season stunt Hawk's ability to make plays?
Yes and no. Hawk was moved to the inside linebacker position last year in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme versus the outside position he played his first three years in the league. Hawk was partnered up with Nick Barnett on the inside last year and with Barnett hobbled early by knee surgery the previous year, Hawk no doubt felt pressure to make more plays.
Problem is, he didn't. Now with the continuing emergence of Desmond Bishop, Hawk has to perform this year. Get to the quarterback and force some more turnovers. With the loss of Aaron Kampman and second year man Brad Jones learning the outside, Hawk is going to be relied on heavily to shore up the left side.
Hawk also needs to perform better against the run. He was touted coming into the draft as someone who could make an immediate impact against the run and he has not been able to consistently do so.
While he does have to go up against the likes of Adrian Peterson twice a year, Hawk needs to make his presence felt early or opponents will be running over the Packers weak side all year. He has not forced a single fumble since 2007 and that is a key job for linebackers in any scheme.
So how does Hawk step up his game? He obviously is already working hard.
Does that mean this isn't a fixable problem? Maybe, but there's still time. That's why this season is key for Hawk. He is entering a contract year next season (if there is one), so the Packers will be keeping a close eye on his progress.
It would not surprise me if Hawk struggles and Bishop has a solid preseason to see Bishop inserted into the base defense and Hawk used in sub packages. It's possible Brandon Chillar could even make an appearance on the inside.
If that happens, he's not going to be a Harrell-type bust, but it will be tremendously disappointing. Hawk flashed all sorts of potential at Ohio State and in his rookie season.
If Hawk doesn't perform, he will be living proof that there is no such thing as a "sure thing" in the NFL.
Follow Kris Burke on Twitter @KBurkePackers
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