Of the seven draft picks, Jerald Hawkins may be the one getting the least fanfare. Such is life for an offensive linemen. But evaluating the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ fourth round pick is also the most difficult.
Even with 37 starts in his tool belt, Hawkins left school as a redshirt junior, opting against the wishes of the NFL Draft Advisory committee. They told him to return to school, a concerted effort in the process to curb the large number of underclassmen declaring. Hawkins chose the NFL path anyway.
“I felt I was mature enough, especially with the help of Coach Grimes,” he said in his post-draft conference call, explaining his decision to declare. “He came two years ago, and I felt like I learned a lot more from him. I had some more technique things to work on and he pretty much helped me out these last two years. I felt comfortable with my decision, felt more mature and felt it was the right thing to do.”
While Kevin Colbert said he respected the decision and the team obviously happy to have him, he made it equally clear that Hawkins is far from reaching the summit of his talent.
“Still a work in progress. In all honesty, he probably came out ahead of schedule. And that’s ok. That’s his decision,” said Colbert, who ended his thought by reiterating that Hawkins “is not complete by any stretch.”
He has played a ton of football, over 2300 career snaps, starting with his freshmen year. That, for obvious reasons, is tough to evaluate. A rookie going up against SEC competition. 2014 gave him a year of comfort, a chance to reflect on the previous one while staying on the right side.
But last season, Hawkins flipped to the left tackle, no automatic transition, even if it sounds easy on paper. Compounding that was a preseason ankle injury that dogged him for the entire season. The injury forced him to miss chunks of games and even when he was in the lineup, he was never healthy.
“It pretty much affected me the whole year,” Hawkins told The Advocate. “I had to put that aside. It was more than just about me – it was about the team.”
Props for his toughness and selfless attitude. But if you put on the tape,j don’t count on walking away impressed.
It’s why the context is key. The 2015 edition of Jerald Hawkins wasn’t the best Jerald Hawkins he can be. It doesn’t mean he’s destined to be an All-Star, or even a starter. Like everyone else in this class, I have no idea the path he’ll take. But if you want to get the best glimpse of who he is as a prospect, roll back to 2014. A healthy sophomore gives you more promising tape than an injured junior playing a new position.