While they didn’t draft the eventual offensive and defensive rookies of the year as the New York Jets did with the selections of All-Pro cornerback Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson, the Baltimore Ravens can still confidently say they hit a pair of home runs with their two first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Sticking with their best player available philosophy at No. 14 overall and taking Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton after he fell into their laps ended up paying major dividends down the stretch last season. After a rough start to the year, he emerged as one of the most disruptive and dynamic defensive backs in the league who shined bright in a hybrid nickel/safety role.
He finished the year as the highest-graded safety according to Pro Football Focus since 2014 and recorded 62 total tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, five quarterback hits, five pass deflections, and one forced fumble in 17 games and five starts including the postseason per Pro Football Reference.
After trading 2019 first-round wide receiver, Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, and a 2022 third-rounder to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a first-round pick, the Ravens traded back and found the next anchor in the middle of their offensive line.
They selected Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum who was the top prospect at the position during the pre-draft process and established himself as one of the best players at the position overall as a rookie.
He started every game of the season including all 17 in the regular season and the Wildcard round of the playoffs, missed just two snaps of a possible 1096 of the team’s total offensive snaps, and finished seventh in AP voting for OROY according to Pro Football Reference.
Both Hamilton and Linderbaum recently spoke about the lessons they learned and the valuable experience gained from their standout rookie seasons as well as their expectations and excitement heading into their second years.
Hamilton is Ready to ‘Produce’ in an Expanded Role
The Ravens’ top pick was still able to see the field on a regular basis and play 53 percent of the team’s 1093 total defensive snaps on the year despite not being a full-time starter. However, after the team traded stalwart starting strong safety Chuck Clark to the Jets earlier in the offseason, Hamilton is slated to become a full-time starter and is embracing what the future holds.
“I feel like I can slide into that role for sure and perform at a high level,” he said on ‘The Lounge’ podcast on May 24, 2023. “I feel like that’s what the Ravens drafted me for and that’s what I’m here for, and I feel like I can definitely produce.”
While he agrees that he playing his best ball down the stretch, Hamilton does agree with PFF’s assessment that he was the best safety in the league as a rookie.
“I played pretty well towards the end of the season, but being bluntly honest, I don’t think I was the best safety in the league last year,” Hamilton said. “It’s just how the numbers go and I have a lot to improve on. At the same time, I know what I can do in this league and I’m teeing it up for the future.”
By the end of his rookie season, his playing time was up and his confidence was soaring with the more impactful splash plays he was making seemingly every week.
“You play against guys every week who you’ve looked up to, who you’ve seen play on TV for tens of years,” Hamilton said. “After about 10 plays, you’re like, ‘I’m as good as these guys. I can play on this level.’ You just stack confidence like that every single week and towards the end of the season, I felt like I definitely belonged out there.”
The last huge play he made came in his playoff debut where he hit former Ravens’ first-round tight end Hayden Hurst so hard that he dislodged the ball for a forced fumble and recovered it as well.
“Obviously we didn’t win the game but for me personally, having a decent game and going into next season pretty confident,” said Hamilton who finished the game with nine total tackles including five solos.
In his new expanded role as a full-time starter, he will still be spending some time in the box near the line of scrimmage but not nearly as much. However, he will get to show off more the elite range and closing speed that made him such a highly-rated prospect coming out of college.
“It’s just different seeing the game from different levels, not backpedaling as much, and just getting in the groove,” Hamilton said. “That’s what OTAs are for. I have a lot to learn in both areas, but I feel like if I can put it all together, it will be really good.”
He believes that the Ravens have a “very deep secondary” and “defense as a whole” despite losing key pieces like Clark, six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, and potentially three-time Pro Bowler Marcus Peters who is still a free agent. He is also still willing to play whatever role defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald needs him to fill on any given down.
“You’ve just got to get in where you fit in and I feel like I can fit in at a lot of spots,” Hamilton said. “If they need me at nickel, for sure. If they need me at dime, no doubt. Safety. If they need me at three-technique, I’ll try to make it happen.”
Linderbaum Values Starting Experience & Doesn’t Anticipate Blocking Philosophy Change
The former Hawkeye was one of just two members of the Ravens’ massive 2022 draft class that was a entrenched as starter from day one and appeared in every game. He got to go against and more than hold his own against some of the best front-seven players in the league and looks forward to building off that invaluable experience.
“Whenever you have 18 games under your belt in the NFL it’s definitely going to help you,” Linderbaum said during OTA’s on May 24, 2023. “There’s still a lot for me personally to get better and to improve on, but we have a great coaching staff here and a great group of guys here that are willing to help each other out.”
The ascending second-year pro admitted that he didn’t “realize how hard of a game (football) is” at the NFL level where players go against the top competition in the world as opposed to college week in and week out.
“Every rep that you have in a game [or] in practice, it’s not going to be easy, so just being more consistent is what everyone strives to be and something that everyone is trying to get better at,” Linderbaum said. “That’s definitely something that is going to help set you up for success in this league – is just being consistent and doing your job.”
Even though he’s learning a new offense for the second year in a row, Linderbaum says the transition from former offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme to that of his replacement Todd Monken has been “good” during the early learning phases before pads come on.
“He’s doing a really good job at helping the guys, verbiage-wise keeping some similar stuff,” Linderbaum said. “There are little tweaks here and there, but at the end of the day, this is what we do for a living, so we have to be professional, work together with each other, and just learn the offense.”
Although the team has changed play-callers on the offensive side of the ball, he still expects the philosophy of physicality to remain the same for his unit.
“[The] Ravens offensive line is going to be [the] Ravens offensive line, so come off the ball, push people back,” Linderbaum said. “As time goes on, we’ll form an identity in terms of if we want to run the ball [or] pass the ball. But [it’s] still the same philosophy and technique.”
As far as specific areas of his game where he feels like he needs to improve, he highlighted overall technique and pass blocking in particular which was one of his perceived weaknesses coming out of college given his lack of prototypical size and the offense he was in for the Hawkeyes.
“It’s always something [that’s good] just to get back those reps that I didn’t get,” Linderbaum said. “Going to college at Iowa, having the coaches that I had teaching me, and then coming here and being around such a great group of guys … You can get better at everything, and certainly, pass blocking is one of them, but everyone around the league is saying that. Everyone can improve on that.”