Ravens’ New Safety Duo Named Best in NFL for 2023

Ravens DBs Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton

Getty Ravens DBs Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton were named the best safety tandem in the entire league.

The slowest juncture of the NFL calendar is the period between the conclusion of all offseason programs for every team in the league, including the Baltimore Ravens, and the start of training camp in late July.

It’s also the perfect time for almost every media outlet that covers the sport to churn out lists, rankings, and projections to fill space, occupy, time, and stir up some engagement and debate among fanbases.

Pro Football Focus’ Jim Wyman recently wrote an article listing the best duo for every qualifying position group in the league. Positions such as quarterback, center, and others where only one player can be on the field at a given time were excluded.

One could make a compelling argument that the Ravens tight end duo of three-time Pro Bowler Mark Andrews and ascending second-year pro Isaiah Likely could warrant more consideration over the likes of David Njoku and Jordan Akins for the Cleveland Browns. There’s also the inside linebacker tandem of First-Team All-Pro Roquan Smith and fourth-year pro Patrick Queen that warrant consideration given how strong they finished the 2022 season once they joined forces.

However, the lone representative on the list from the Charm City franchise was second-year breakout candidate Kyle Hamilton and underrated veteran ballhawk Marcus Williams who was named the best safety duo in the league.

“With all the attention going to Sauce Gardner, Hamilton quietly put together a dominant rookie year of his own, as he led all safeties in PFF grade at 87.6,” Wyman wrote. “In fact, Hamilton had at least an 83.0 PFF grade in all four major grading categories.”

The Ravens selected the former Notre Dame star at No. 14 overall in the first round and after a rough start to his rookie campaign, he finished with an 87.7 run defense grade, 85.7 as a pass-rusher, and 83.0 in coverage per PFF which gave him “about as well-rounded a rookie season as we’ve ever seen”.

“Williams, on the other hand, is coming off his lowest-ranked PFF grade season since 2018, and he still graded amongst the top 20 safeties in the league with a 73.9 PFF grade,” Wyman wrote.

The 2023 season will be their first working as a tandem in the backend following the offseason trade of stalwart veteran Chuck Clark to the New York Jets. Given this fact, most of Wyman’s reason for having them listed as the league’s best is more based on projection than production.

Hamilton Could Become Household Name in Year 2

The 2022 first-rounder will not only have more responsibilities as a full-time starter in his second season but even high expectations following such an outstanding second half of his rookie year.

He was on the field early and often as a nickel defender serving in a hybrid safety role where he was tasked with blitzing, aiding in run defense, and covering whoever lineup in the slot at times whether it was a receiver or tight end, or running back. Hamilton executed and played the role that capitalized on his versatility and rare blend of size, strength, and length at an elite level.

Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald found creative ways to deploy him and use his skillset to cause chaos for opposing offenses, especially in the box and near the line of scrimmage.

According to Pro Football Reference, Hamilton recorded 62 total tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, five quarterback hits, five pass deflections, and one forced fumble in 16 games that included four starts.

He played 53 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps as a rookie as a regular rotational piece but now that he is slated to take over for Clark, not only will his snap count increase significantly but so will the ground he’ll need to cover in the backend. While he didn’t run a blazing 40-yard dash during the pre-draft process, Hamilton’s range and closing speed are both exceptional.

The Heavy’s own Senior NFL Insider Matt Lombardo recently had Hamilton featured in an article titled ‘Predicting the NFL’s Next First-Time All-Pro at Each Position’ because he believes that he is “as versatile as they come at safety” and that he can “build on a prolific rookie season”.

“Not only does Hamilton thrive in coverage, where he 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,” he wrote. “Hamilton’s 2.0 sacks and 20 run-stops underscore his value at all levels of the Ravens’ defense.

Williams Poised For Big Season As Well

The most likely and perhaps the only reason that the six-year veteran defensive back had his lowest-graded season since his second year in the league was the fact that his gradable sample size was limited to 10 games as a result of an injury.

He missed seven games from Week 6 to 13 after suffering a dislocated wrist in Week 5 in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. However, prior to that setback, Williams was off to a sensational start to his career as a Raven and looking worth every penny of the sizable five-year deal worth $70 million that the team signed him to in free agency with three interceptions in the first four games.

While 2020 seventh-rounder Geno Stone filled in more than admirably for him, he just didn’t present the same playmaking threat from a ball skills standpoint. In his first game back from injury, Williams seemingly picked up where he left off by recording an interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14.

He finished the year with 61 total tackles, two tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, eight pass breakups, and team-leading four interceptions according to PFR. Williams is the Ravens’ first true free safety since six-time Pro Bowler Eric Weddle patrolled the backend in Baltimore from 2016-2018 and he could prove to be perhaps the best since Hall of Famer Ed Reed now that he has a full year in Macdonald’s system, is healthy, and is still ascending at just 26 years old.

Hamilton believes Williams is “one of the best in our league” and was well on his way to proving it prior to his untimely injury. He is excited about the opportunity to play alongside him on a full-time basis and learn as much as he can.

“He tells me every day, not even football-wise, just, mentally, how to attack every day – how to watch film, how to adapt to certain coverages that we’re playing and stuff like that – [and] not to overthink it,” he said in a press conference on June 6, 2023. “He gives me a lot of confidence in my game, so he’s helped me a lot the past two years. And hopefully, it’s going to be a bright future.”

Read More