The 6-foot-0 195 pound cornerback from Illinois was all over the place against Wisconsin in a 2011 meeting. Facing a strong running team, it's understandable why he'd be playing in the box as often as he as, but he was being used more like a weak side safety than a cornerback.
He rushed often, notching three pressures by my count, and made a few plays at or near the line of scrimmage. He's not a real strong tackler, more of a hitter, and Denver's second round draft pick, Montee Ball, left him gripping air on two occasions. But it was his nose for the ball that stands out.
Fast forward to the same opponent the next season. The Illini's sixth game that season, Wisconsin ran all over them - like they did to many teams - but in that game, Hawthorne slammed his head into Badgers fullback Derek Watt (J.J. Watt's brother) in an attempt to make a tackle. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and was diagnosed with a concussion.
He would return to the field the next game, but looking at him later in the season, he's not half as aggressive as he was. He doesn't flash the same instinctive way he had been.
Considering his length and the production he had in his first three years, not knowing anything else, it seems odd he would have fallen to the fifth round without something having happened. Clearly, this isn't saying the injury he sustained ruined him as a player, but he just doesn't look at all like the same player.
Maybe that contributed to whatever issue he was having, but Illinois played Penn State the week prior to his injury and he didn't look as fast as he had either.
Not coincidentally, he's a reckless player, and that aggression and determination to get to the ball at all costs led to the injury. He was flagged for a blatant shot to the head of a Penn State receiver in that game, and should have been flagged for another in the same game.
Considering many accounts suggest Illinois's defense played well under expectations this past season (the first under head coach Tim Beckman), there's something to be said about the possibility of there being issues inside the locker room as well. Whatever the reason, Hawthorne (and incidentally, the entire Illini defense) appeared listless and uninterested as Ohio State walked all over and through their beaten defense.
Hawthorne did display a bit more of the tenacity that stood him out of the crowd in 2011, and made a few nice plays against the Buckeyes.
Hopefully, that's more along the lines of the player the Steelers will have in camp in July, not the undisciplined player who crashes head first into the opposition, or the guy who contributed to a defense that grossly underwhelmed this past season.