Packers Annual Checkup: ILB A.J. Hawk
FEB 15, 2013 4:00a ET
Today: ILB A.J. Hawk
Saturday, Feb. 16: CB Casey Hayward
Sunday, Feb. 17: CB Davon House
Monday, Feb. 18: WR Greg Jennings
Tuesday, Feb. 19: S M.D. Jennings
Wednesday, Feb. 20: LB Brad Jones
Thursday, Feb. 21: WR James Jones
A.J. HAWK, INSIDE LINEBACKER
Season stats: 18 games (16 regular season, two postseason); regular season career-high 120 tackles, six missed tackles, three sacks, zero passes defensed, zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles
Best game: Week 4 loss at Indianapolis (eight tackles, five stops, zero missed tackles; played 57 of 100 defensive snaps; season-best 4.4 PFF rating)
Worst game: Wild-Card win over Minnesota (one tackle, zero stops; played 42 of 63 defensive snaps; minus-1.3 PFF rating)
ProFootballFocus.com season rating: minus-2.2 (No. 18 out of 23 Packers defensive players; worst among Packers inside linebackers; No. 25 out of 52 among NFL inside linebackers)
Expectations at the start of the season: Medium
Expectations were ... Met
Looking live: Hawk stayed healthy all season, which is one positive aspect of his seven-year career that has been consistent. Though injuries can be freak occurrences, Hawk deserves credit for being able to stay on the field while fellow inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith were out. Hawk is a leader on Green Bay's defense, with his teammates often mentioning him as the player who effectively rallies the group. That is one area of Hawk's value to the Packers that can go unnoticed at times. From a production standpoint, Hawk had a career-high in tackles and also dropped his missed tackles from eight in 2011 to six in 2012. Hawk, 29, is not an every-down player anymore, though. Despite Clay Matthews missing four games with an injury, he still played 30 more snaps in 2012 than Hawk. In some ways, this was Hawk's best NFL season. It helps that the Packers' defense improved as a whole from a year earlier, but Hawk was a part of both units. Hawk was the fifth overall pick in 2006, so he's often judged based on that. But, at this point in his career, Hawk is what he is. And, in assessing him from that perspective, Hawk had a fine 2012 season.
Upon further review: Though the argument of "Hawk is what he is" serves to help with expectations, it's also a reminder of what he is not as a player. Hawk didn't have an interception for the second consecutive year and also didn't record a pass defensed for the first time in his career. Those numbers are despite having 35 passes thrown to the receiver Hawk was covering. Also alarming in coverage is that quarterbacks had a passer rating of 124.4 when throwing into Hawk's coverage area. That number has Hawk ranked as the sixth-worst NFL inside linebacker in coverage, and he was targeted more than all five of the players who graded out worse. Though Hawk makes a good amount of stops in the backfield on running plays (and led the team in ProFootballFocus.com's "stops" category), this was also the third consecutive year in which he didn't force a single fumble. Hawk's limitations are the reason that he wasn't used every play this past season like he was earlier in his career, including the 2011 season. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers clearly recognized where Hawk performs best and worst (hence, removing him from the dime package, where he struggles) and tried to put him into the types of situations that were more likely to yield positive results.
Overall 2012 grade: C
Status for 2013: 70 percent chance of being on the Packers' active roster in Week 1 next season. Hawk is set to be paid more than $5 million in 2013, and it would produce that amount in cap savings if the team decided to release him. It is possible that Hawk and the Packers could agree to a restructured contract for less money in an effort to extend their time together. With Bishop and Smith returning from injury, plus unrestricted free agent (and converted inside linebacker) Brad Jones coming off a fantastic 2012 season at his new position, general manager Ted Thompson has a difficult decision to make on Hawk's future in Green Bay.
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