Ravens’ Kyle Hamilton deserves to be in the DROY conversation

Ravens, Kyle Hamilton. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Ravens, Kyle Hamilton. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens sure know how to pick ’em. Their 14th pick of the draft, Kyle Hamilton, has the potential to develop into a defensive cornerstone piece for years to come.

The Ravens’ two first-rounders in the 2022 NFL Draft, safety Hamilton and center Tyler Linderbaum, flew relatively under-the-radar as home-run picks who have met and exceeded expectations this season. Linderbaum is enjoying a productive rookie year of his own having developed into one of Baltimore’s most reliable offensive linemen, and he deserves his own article praising his contributions to the team so far this year.

As a truly unicorn talent who fell out of the top-ten in the draft, Hamilton struggled in the Ravens’ defensive scheme at the start of the season yet has since ironed out his wrinkles and become one of the team’s — and the league’s — most promising young defenders.

To be clear, New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner absolutely deserves to win the DROY award, no argument. Gardner could be considered the best cornerback in the league right now — even considering his age — and put together a rookie season for the history books in 2022. Seattle Seahawks’ Tariq Woolen and Detroit Lions’ Aidan Hutchinson also impressed on their respective teams but noticeably trail Gardner in the DROY odds.

Why not slide Kyle Hamilton in that conversation as well?

In Week 18 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hamilton finished as the highest-graded Raven according to Pro Football Focus (91.2). Hamilton’s performance that game capped off a quietly triumphant season for the rookie in which he finished as the eight-ranked safety in the league with an 82.3 overall grade.

Among qualified safeties, Hamilton finished eighth in run defense, fifth in pass rush, and 18th in coverage.

Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton has enjoyed a rookie year worthy of widespread recognition

In 2022, Hamilton recorded 62 combined tackles, five passes defended, five quarterback hits, two sacks, and one forced fumble in 16 games. The only thing he’s missing is an interception, and he did indeed have a pick that was negated by a bad call in the Ravens-Saints game.

Hamilton may have hurt his DROY chances early on when he floundered in demoralizing losses to the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and New York Giants — that Dolphins game sticks out like a sore thumb considering the Ravens’ defense gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter.

It’s worth noting that the rookie wasn’t the only one having a hard time with consistent tackling and coverage. The entire Ravens defensive unit was still finding its identity at that time, coached by a new defensive coordinator in Mike Macdonald, and Hamilton’s play improved the more snaps he played with the likes of Chuck Clark, Marcus Williams, and the rest of the backfield.

Prior to the season, some were worried Hamilton created a logjam at the safety position given all the talent the Ravens already had on the roster; taking a different angle, though the stacked defense has uniquely allowed Hamilton the freedom to develop into a do-it-all defender rather than focus on a single area.

He’s proved to be an explosive blitzer off the edge, a stalwart defender against the run, and so far he has translated his elite coverage skills from college (he allowed just a 25.9 passer rating when targeted in coverage since 2019!) to the NFL as a key member of the Ravens’ gold-star secondary.

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Hamilton may not have received as much acclaim as his top-ranked peers this season and it’s much too early to judge his long-term impact, but he’s already turning into a hard-hitting, technically adept, and all-around talented defender.

The Ravens will be holding onto this one for the foreseeable future.