The Baltimore Ravens will have a first-time, first-team All-Pro in 2023, but it won’t be rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers, nor second-year edge-rusher David Ojabo. Instead, “unicorn” safety Kyle Hamilton is tipped to earn full All-Pro honors by building on his solid debut season.
Hamilton is the choice of Heavy’s Senior NFL Insider Matt Lombardo, who believes the 22-year-old “is as versatile as they come.” Lombardo also detailed how Hamilton has already proved himself effective in all three phases of defense, having “played both deep safety and in the slot while holding opposing receivers to only 9.9 Yards per Reception, but he’s a real weapon up near the line of scrimmage. Hamilton’s 2.0 sacks and 20 run-stops underscore his value.”
Those stats offered a tantalizing glimpse of the roving playmaker the Ravens hoped they were getting when they selected Hamilton 14th overall in the 2022 NFL draft. He’s now primed to live up to his draft status after the Ravens traded veteran Chuck Clark to the New York Jets, clearing the path for Hamilton to become more of a force in Baltimore’s blitz packages.
‘Unicorn’ Primed for Bigger Role
Clark’s presence last season saw Hamilton share snaps after Marcus Williams had also arrived in free agency. It was Clark who started all 17 games during the regular season, playing 1,093 snaps in the process, per Pro Football Reference.
By contrast, Hamilton played just 548 snaps, although as Lomardo noted, he made the most of his limited playing time. Limiting Hamilton’s exposure to the field wasn’t the plan when the Ravens used a top-20 pick to draft a multi-faceted defensive back described by many, including USA Today’s Doug Farrar, as a “true unicorn.”
That’s just a label for Hamilton’s impressive range of skills, but what’s more exciting for the Ravens are the comparisons the player earned. Farrar chose all-action Los Angeles Chargers’ safety Derwin James as his template for Hamilton, but it was Dunleavy who mentioned Eric Turner’s name in connection with the former Notre Dame standout: “Since Eric Turner was the No. 2 pick in 1991, Sean Taylor in 2004 and Eric Berry in 2010 are the highest-drafted safeties (both No. 5).”
The late Turner was named first-team All-Pro as a key member of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban’s fearsome Cleveland Browns’ defense in 1994. Turner went on to earn his second Pro-Bowl nod at the end of the Ravens’s first season in Baltimore two years later.
While Turner was the first great Ravens safety, the franchise has a proud history at the position, a past head coach John Harbaugh needs Hamilton to uphold.
Ravens Ready to Add to Long Line of Great Safeties
Harbaugh inherited eventual Hall of Famer Ed Reed in 2008, and No. 20 continued his stellar performances in a Ravens uniform for another five seasons, winning a Super Bowl in 2012. Reed was an all-time NFL great who proved tough to replace, but Harbaugh got it right in 2016, when he signed Eric Weddle, who made three Pro Bowls in a row.
The Ravens have been looking for another game-changer at safety since they dumped Weddle in 2019. Clark answered the call to a point after going from 2017 sixth-round pick to key starter, but the decision to draft Hamilton left the veteran feeling “disrespected.”
Clark’s main value was in pressure packages, evidenced by him blitzing 218 times during his career, per Pro Football Reference. It’s up to Hamilton to assume Clark’s role as the Ravens’ chief blitz threat from the secondary.
Fortunately, the early signs indicate Hamilton will make the grade in this role. He showed the power to win rushing inside vs. a guard for this sack, highlighted by ESPN’s Matt Bowen, against the Browns in Week 7.
Hamilton was just as effective blitzing from the outside, showcasing impressive takeoff speed from the slot to sack Deshaun Watson against the Browns in Week 15.
Hamilton’s recognition and athleticism were obvious on both of these plays. Those are the core skills that can elevate his game to an All-Pro level.
So can the ability to deny receivers space in coverage. That’s something Hamilton had become a specialist in by the time his first pro season entered December, per NFL Rookie Watch.
Great safeties are complete players at the position. They can run, hit, cover and blitz with equal effectiveness.
Hamilton ticked all of those boxes as a rookie, but he should be even better with a fully healthy Williams behind him. Williams missed seven games with a wrist problem that landed him on injured reserve, but he’s a true centerfielder whose presence will allow Hamilton to move around more often and roam closer to the line of scrimmage.
That’s where the Ravens’ “unicorn” can make the kind of splash plays that get players noticed by All-Pro voters.