Kyle Hamilton was the highest-graded safety in the league last year by Pro Football Focus. While flattering, there's two issues with that.
One, he didn't really play safety. Two, he doesn't agree.
"I played pretty well towards the end of the season, but being bluntly honest, I don't think I was the best safety in the league last year," Hamilton said on The Lounge podcast this week.
"It's just how the numbers go and I have a lot to improve on. At the same time, I know what I can do in this league and I'm teeing it up for the future."
Second-year safety Kyle Hamilton looks back on his rookie year and ahead to his changing role this season. Plus, he talks about going back to school at Notre Dame, his Korean heritage, and his worldly upbringing.
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The future for Hamilton is in a more traditional safety role, with emphasis on the word "more." Hamilton will still likely continue to be used as a Swiss Army knife, and he's willing and able to do so, but with Chuck Clark traded to the New York Jets this offseason, Hamilton will slide into his starting spot.
The 14th-overall pick in last year's draft, Hamilton knows that's long been the expectation and he's eager for it.
"I feel like I can slide into that role for sure and perform at a high level," he said. "I feel like that's what the Ravens drafted me fore and that's what I'm here for, and I feel like I can definitely produce."
Hamilton primarily played in the nickel role last year, lined up inside cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. That meant a smorgasbord of assignments. One game, he'd be covering a 5-foot-9, 180-pound slot receiver. The next, it might be a 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end.
Hamilton believes those different challenges, on top of the general adversities rookies go through, made him a stronger and more well-rounded player. By season's end, he was playing his best football of the year.
He capped his rookie campaign with a forced fumble and recovery in the Ravens' playoff loss in Cincinnati when he rocked tight end Hayden Hurst after a third-down completion. Hamilton said the way he finished the year, and that play, helped catapult him into this offseason.
"You play against guys every week who you've looked up to, who you've seen play on TV for tens of years," Hamilton said. "After about 10 plays, you're like, 'I'm as good as these guys. I can play on this level.' You just stack confidence like that every single week and towards the end of the season, I felt like I definitely belonged out there."
Moving to a more traditional safety role puts Hamilton in a position he's been playing since high school, but it will be another adjustment at the NFL level.
The 6-foot-4, 221-pound Hamilton liked playing the big nickel role because it gave him a different perspective on the game. Everything happens a lot faster at the line of scrimmage, and he racked up 62 tackles and two sacks last season.
Further back from the line of scrimmage, Hamilton will be focused less on one-on-one matchups and more on reading multiple route concepts and reacting. He'll be required to show off his range, and should get more opportunities for interceptions (his one last year was negated by a Clark penalty).
"It's just different seeing the game from different levels, not backpedaling as much, and just getting in the groove," Hamilton said. "That's what OTAs are for. I have a lot to learn in both areas, but I feel like if I can put it all together, it will be really good."
Hamilton, who missed Wednesday's practice with some lower body tightness, still said it comes down to where coaches need him to play. That could change based on matchups, injuries, or personnel groupings Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald may want. Macdonald said it remains to be seen how many three-safety looks he'll want to deploy this season.
"We have a very deep secondary, very deep defense as a whole. You've just got to get in where you fit in and I feel like I can fit in at a lot of spots," Hamilton said. "If they need me at nickel, for sure. If they need me at dime, no doubt. Safety. If they need me at three-technique, I'll try to make it happen."