3 Ravens Highlighted for Standout Rookie Seasons in 2022

Ravens DB Kyle Hamilton

Getty Ravens DB Kyle Hamilton combined with ILB Roquan Smith on a tackle in a regular season game on January 8, 2023.

Even though the Baltimore Ravens 2022 season ended in the Wildcard round of the playoffs, the recognition for some of their best players keeps rolling in. Several members of their 11-man rookie draft class and undrafted free agent crop made meaningful contributions in 2022 and three of them were recognized by being named to the NFL.com Offensive and Defensive All-Rookie Teams.

Former No. 1 overall pick turned NFL.com analyst David Carr and NFL.com Around the NFL writer Kevin Patra compiled the two lists that featured a trio of the team’s top first-year players for their standout inaugural seasons.

Kyle Hamilton Improved Immensely Once His Role Evolved 

The first-round safety had a rough first couple of weeks to start his rookie year which led to decreased playing time while defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald figured out how and when to use him. Down the second half stretch of the season, the dynamic defensive back became a consistently disruptive force as a hybrid defender and was at his best near the line of scrimmage and coming downhill to close throwing windows, force incompletions, and deliver huge hits.

“With a strong end to the season, Detroit’s Kirby Joseph nearly swiped the second safety spot like it was an Aaron Rodgers pass. But I’m sticking with Hamilton,” Patra wrote. “The Ravens rookie had a tough start to his NFL career, but surged after the club put him in a better position to make plays. Hamilton lined up 45 times at free safety during the first two weeks, when he struggled. He then saw his production elevate as a slot/box safety. Still not great in deep coverage, Hamilton is at his best near the line of scrimmage and in the slot, where he’s the best run-defending safety among rookies. Hamilton displayed good timing on the blitz, generating eight pressures (most among rookie safeties, per PFF) and two sacks. As the unique defender gets more seasoning, the talent is there for Hamilton to continue to improve in Baltimore’s system in Year 2 and become an even more aggressive difference-maker.”

The former Notre Dame product finished the year with 62 total tackles including 46 solos and 4 for a loss, 2 sacks after recording none in college, 5 quarterback hits, 5 pass deflections, and a forced fumble according to Pro Football Reference.

Hamilton’s evolution over the course of the year was truly a sight to behold and his future as a playmaker in the Ravens’ defense and a franchise cornerstone is very bright. Expect to see him take an even larger jump in his second season with a whole offseason under his belt and what like be more ways in which he gets deployed.

Tyler Linerbaum Lived Up to the Hype

Heading into last year’s draft, he was dubbed as the best center prospect to come out in years and the first-rounder was as advertised as a rookie. He came into the league as a day-one starter and didn’t waste any time establishing himself as one of the best players at his position in the league, especially in the run game. He consistently performed at a high level and more than held his own against some of the league’s best off-ball linebackers and interior defensive linemen.

“The Ravens’ offense certainly had its fair share of struggles, especially when Lamar Jackson was lost to a knee injury, but Linderbaum lived up to his draft standing, holding his own against veterans like Steelers three-time All-Pro Cam Heyward on a weekly basis,” Carr wrote. “Though he was snubbed by the Pro Bowl, Linderbaum played a key role in the Ravens’ second-ranked rush offense, garnering a run-blocking grade of 84.2 from PFF, fourth-best among centers this season, while his 74.7 overall grade placed him sixth among centers.”

The Iowa product started all 17 regular season games and the team’s lone playoff contest, missing just two snaps all year. He went against elite run-stuffing defensive tackle DJ Reader of the Cincinnati Bengals in back-to-back weeks to close out his impressive rookie year and won more than his fair share of their battles in the trenches, helping the Ravens rush for over 100 yards in both games.

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The Ravens have found the anchor in the middle of their offensive line for years to come whose career arc could mirror that of Kansas City Chiefs center Creed Humphrey. The former Oklahoma Sooner also balled out as a rookie in 2021 but was snubbed from the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams before being named to both in his second year. Linderbaum has the potential to do the same as the two will be competing with their play on the field for supremacy at the position for the foreseeable future after and perhaps even before the retirement of Philadelphia Eagles’ future Hall of Famer, Jason Kelce.

Travis Jones Became a Roadblock Down the Stretch

After veteran, Michael Pierce suffered a biceps injury and elected to undergo season-ending surgery, the third-round defensive tackle more than admirably filled in at nose tackle. A minor knee injury he sustained during a dominant preseason campaign delayed his regular season debut but he showed several flashes of dominance at times over the course of the year.

“In a down year for rookie defensive tackles, Jones gets my second slot among the big boys,” Patra wrote. “For much of the season, the rookie DT displayed an ability to get off blocks and missed just one tackle. His 24 tackles and 19 stops rank second among rookie DTs. Like many first-year players, Jones started slow, but then showed potential in spurts that helped the Ravens field one of the best run Ds in the NFL for the balance of the season.”

The former UCONN product appeared in 15 games and made three starts in the regular season and finished with 24 total tackles including 14 solos and 1 for loss, 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit, 2 pressures, and 1 pass deflection according to Pro Football Reference.

Even with Pierce slated to come back but with the return of six-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell for a 16th season uncertain at this point, Jones will be poised to take a huge leap either way in 2023. With a fully healthy offseason under his belt, he could be an under-the-radar breakout candidate heading into his second season.

Isaiah Likely Left Out 

Despite playing behind a three-time Pro Bowler in Mark Andrews, the fourth-round tight end was still able to showcase his talents when given the chance. In the games where Andrews missed or left early due to injury or rest, he made the most of his expanded opportunities in those instances. Yet he was passed over for Carr’s All-Rookie Team in favor of Tennessee Titans fourth-round gem and former University of Maryland standout Chigoziem Okonkwo.

The former Coastal Carolina product received 14 more targets (60-46) and caught 4 more passes (36-32) than Okonkwo and hauled in the same number of touchdowns (3). However, he finished with 77 fewer receiving yards (450-373).

There were several reasons for Likely’s lack of prolific production despite the sensational flashes he displayed in the preseason playing in an offensive scheme that emphasizes the utilization of tight ends. Some include a lack of consistent opportunities to catch passes in such a run-centric offense, the occasional bad drop on his part, and inconsistent quarterback play as Ravens had to play their second and third-string quarterbacks down the stretch.

The team will surely invest more assets into improving the wide receiver position but likely should see his role, playing time, and involvement in the offense expand and increase. He is almost a tight end in name only because the kind of plays he showed he can make down the field and after the catch as a rookie was truly special.