After a rocky start to his inaugural season in the NFL where he played a vital role in the most epic home collapse in franchise history in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins, rookie safety Kyle Hamilton has been a force for the Baltimore Ravens defense since Week 3.
Not only did he rebound, but the first-rounder has done so exceptionally well and is the highest-graded player at his position in the entire NFL, according to Pro Football Focus on November 22.
His overall grade of 86.9 ranks first among all safeties in the league among both rookies and more experienced players as well as first among all rookie defenders including fourth overall pick Sauce Gardner of the New York Jets who is the heavy favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Hamilton was the highest-rated safety to come out in the draft in the past decade, the first one to come off the board in the first round, and hasn’t disappointed. He has appeared and made an impact in all 10 of the Ravens’ games this season having recorded 29 total tackles including two for a loss, three quarterback hits, a sack, a forced fumble, and two pass deflections. He had what would’ve been his first career interception negated in Week 9 in the team’s win over the New Orleans Saints negated by a ticky-tack penalty on fellow safety Chuck Clark.
Kyle Hamilton Continues to Shine in Versatile Role
Even though the former Notre Dame product has yet to start a single game this season, his role on defense has expanded and his usage has increased as the season has gone along. Ravens first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is deploying him in a plethora of ways in different packages including lining up in the slot at nickel, in the box at dime, and on the edge as a blitzer.
“He’s not going to be limited to any of those spots certainly in the future, but for right now [with] the way we’re set up, the Nickel and the Dime spot are good spots for him,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a press conference on November 16. “Those guys in some of our disguises and the way we rotate some of the coverages, the Nickel and the Dime run back and play deep plenty of times. So, it’s all kind of interchangeable. He’s done a great job and [he’s] playing good ball.”
Macdonald admitted that Hamilton has an “unconventional” body type compared to most nickel defenders but shared that his rare blend of size, length, and athleticism make him a valuable weapon on the perimeter when defending run-pass-option (RPO) plays. He can help set the edge, come crashing off it to chase a play down with excellent backside pursuit or bail into underneath, intermediate or deep coverage.
“He’s a good blitzer coming off the edge then if you need him to play deep zone, some nickels are able to do it, but he’s a safety by trade, so he can play back there, as well,” Macdonald said in a press conference on November 17.
He also has been a strong contributor on special teams covering kicks and punts with the way he has been playing down the field and is consistently one of the first players to make contact and help bring down returners.
“Kyle [Hamilton’s] come a long way. Early on, we had him out there, and we just try to figure out what could he do for us,” Ravens special teams coordinator Chris Horton said in a press conference on November 17. “As the weeks went on, he just continued to get better and better and better, and he is. He’s playing well, and we feel like we have him in the right roles and he’s making the plays that he needs to make for us.”
Biggest Areas of Improvement for Ravens’ 1st-Rounder
While Hamilton has raised his level of play across the board and is developing into the multidimensional defender that the team envisioned when they drafted him the first of their two picks in round one, he has made tremendous strides in some specific areas that have led to improved play in others.
After struggling with tackling and especially in the open field in both the preseason and early on in the season, he has improved light years in both areas and was having his best game as a tackler in the team’s Week 11 win over the Carolina Panthers before leaving in the first half with a knee injury. In just 21 defensive snaps, he recorded four impressive solo tackles including one for a loss and a quarterback hit.
“He came out there and he had tough sledding the first couple games, but he didn’t get down on himself. The guys didn’t get down on him; they just kept pushing him,” Harbaugh said. [He’s a] very versatile player down there; he’s tackling so well, playing so hard. He’s a good blitzer; I don’t know that we knew that when we drafted him. He’s a really good blitzer, so yes, he keeps growing every week.”
Thankfully, his knee is “stable” according to Harbaugh it doesn’t appear to be serious so he’ll be able to continue be a factor and playmaker the Ravens defense as they continue to chase “elite greatness”.