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Late for Work: Kyle Hamilton Surges to No. 2 in Safety Rankings

S Kyle Hamilton
S Kyle Hamilton

Kyle Hamilton Surges to No. 2 in ESPN's Safety Rankings

Perhaps no player made a bigger leap from Year 1 to Year 2 last season than safety Kyle Hamilton, who emerged as one of the league's most impactful and versatile defensive players.

NFL insiders have taken notice. Hamilton was No. 2 in ESPN's top 10 safety rankings, as determined by a survey of league executives, coaches, and scouts.

"The ultimate Swiss Army knife that was used in every way possible last season," an NFC scout said. "He was a defender opposing offenses had to be aware of on every snap."

Hamilton, who did not make last year's rankings, was ranked as high as No. 1 and no lower than No. 6. The only player ranked ahead of Hamilton was Antoine Winfield Jr. of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler noted that the 23-year-old Hamilton is the only player in the rankings with at least 10 tackles for loss (10) and 10 pass deflections (13) in 2023. The first-team All-Pro also had three sacks and four interceptions.

"Some evaluators believe Hamilton's lack of speed (4.59-second 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL draft combine) limits his ability to play deep," Fowler wrote. "His tight hips make him more of a straight-line runner. And the Ravens are more inclined to play him at middle linebacker in dime than as a post safety. But all of that hasn't limited production."

An AFC executive said Hamilton "doesn't fit the bill for everyone, but really important for them. Have to know where he is at all times. Really good instincts in the middle of the field."

Hamilton's teammate, Marcus Williams, received honorable mention.

"Not many guys who have his range," an NFC coordinator said of Williams. "Guys who can play in the middle of the field with ball skills are rare. It's just that he's missed time the last two years with injury."

On a side note, Hamilton was ranked as the Ravens' second-best player (behind Lamar Jackson) in terms of projected impact this season by The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer.

"Hamilton's importance to the Ravens last season was never more apparent than when he was missing," Shaffer wrote. "With the All-Pro on the field, Baltimore's defense allowed 4.4 yards per play, averaged 0.16 EPA per play and had a success rate of 63.8%, all of which would've ranked in the top two league-wide, according to TruMedia. When Hamilton was off the field, the Ravens allowed 5.4 yards per play, averaged 0.03 EPA per play and had a success rate of 57.5%, all of which would've ranked in the bottom half of the league.

"In Year 3, Hamilton could be an NFL Defensive Player of the Year dark horse."

Jackson's Supporting Cast Ranked in Middle of the Pack

The Ravens have one of the NFL's elite playmakers at quarterback in Jackson, but where does his supporting cast rank?

In the middle of the pack, in the opinion of ESPN's Bill Barnwell. The Ravens were No. 15 in Barnwell's rankings of every team's top contributors at wide receiver, running back, and tight end. (Wide receivers were given the most weight of the three positions.)

"Do the Ravens have a big three? There's a scenario in which it plays out that way," Barnwell wrote. "Zay Flowers was promising as a rookie, although it was in more of a gadget role than you would expect from a traditional top wide receiver. Mark Andrews has been excellent when healthy, but that 1,361-yard season from 2021 is close to double what he has averaged across his other five NFL seasons, often owing to injuries and limited snap counts. While recognizing he's capable of elite performance, it's tough to believe Andrews is going to be a 1,300-yard receiver again in 2024. (Having Isaiah Likely here as a backup is valuable, given that he might be a top-20 receiving tight end in his own right.)"

As for Derrick Henry, Barnwell said the addition of the four-time Pro Bowl running back "will be fascinating."

"The top-end acceleration that made him a sensation at his peak probably isn't there anymore, as the running back who gained 30 yards or more once every 52 carries between 2019 and 2020 has done that once every 106 carries since," Barnwell wrote. "In the passing game, he has never been more than a change of pace who can terrify defensive backs on screens, and while he didn't fumble last season, he fumbled six times in 2022.

"And yet, would you be surprised if this move revitalized Henry's career? He's still productive enough as a runner; he had 84 rush yards over expectation behind a horrible offensive line last season. Playing alongside Lamar Jackson will slow down linebacker flow and give weakside defensive ends something to think about as they try to chase Henry down on outside zone, creating more space for him in the run game. A resurgent Henry would go a long way for Baltimore."

Barnwell didn't mention Keaton Mitchell, but the explosive running back will return from knee surgery at some point this season and provide the lightning to Henry's thunder.

Barnwell noted that it's hard to predict how much of a factor wide receiver Rashod Bateman will be this season given his injury history. That said, the 2021 first-round pick is fully healthy entering training camp. Bateman has shown flashes of his playmaking ability, and the Ravens are expecting him to be a significant contributor.

Odafe Oweh Named to CBS Sports' All-Breakout Team

The Ravens are also expecting their other 2021 first-round pick, outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, to make a leap this season. And so does he.

CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards agrees. Edwards named Oweh to his All-Breakout Team, which is comprised of players still on their rookie contracts.

"It is not an ideal time to buy stock in Oweh considering all of the defections from Baltimore's defensive coaching staff. However, he profiles as an impact player at this level," Edwards wrote. "His sack per pressure rate (9.8%) was relatively low compared to his pressure rate (17.2%), so he will have to do a better job finishing plays in 2024. … The Ravens have earned a reputation of pulling the most out of that group over the years with the likes of Pernell McPhee, Za'Darius Smith and more."

Oweh's fifth-year option was picked up in April, and he has been a menace during offseason practices. With Jadeveon Clowney gone, more will be on Oweh's plate.

While second-year inside linebacker Trenton Simpson has been a popular pick to have a breakout season, it was Malik Harrison who received an honorable mention nod from Edwards at inside linebacker.

PFF Identifies Ravens' Best Offseason Decision and One Move They Should Still Make

It was noted in yesterday’s Late for Work that Justin Madubuike was ranked as the fifth-best defensive tackle in the league in ESPN's survey. Accordingly, Pro Football Focus said that signing Madubuike to a four-year contract extension was the Ravens' best move this offseason.

"The Derrick Henry signing got more publicity, as it should, with Henry and Lamar Jackson set to strike fear into defensive coordinators everywhere. However, retaining Justin Madubuike was Baltimore's biggest offseason move," PFF’s Trevor Sikkema wrote. "The Ravens' secondary is budding and anchored by linebacker Roquan Smith in the middle, but Madubuike's pass-rushing abilities are vital to the defense's overall efficacy. He is coming off career bests in PFF pass-rush grade (79.6) and run-defense grade (66.9). His consistency is what helps him be such a force, as he recorded at least half a sack in 11 straight games last year."

The next Ravens player who should receive a contract extension is cornerback Brandon Stephens, wrote PFF’s Thomas Valentine, who said it's the one move Baltimore should make before the start of training camp.

"A third-round pick in 2021, Brandon Stephens has transitioned from safety to cornerback in his three years in the NFL, starting 16 games as an outside cornerback for the Ravens in 2023," Valentine wrote. "His 68.0 PFF coverage grade last year was the second-highest mark among Ravens cornerbacks, and with Ronald Darby moving on and Marlon Humphrey potentially transitioning to the slot, re-signing Stephens in the final year of his deal is a must.

"Stephens is still just 26 years old and heading into the prime of his career. The Ravens can re-sign him and pair him with Nate Wiggins, their 2024 first-round pick, and reap the benefits of having one of the NFL's better secondaries."

Ozzie Newsome's Impact on 'Hard Knocks'

As a Hall of Fame tight end and an executive with two Lombardi trophies, Ozzie Newsome's legacy is secure. The Ravens executive vice president and former general manager also played a role in the NFL's growth of all-access content, specifically HBO's "Hard Knocks."

The Ravens were featured in the first season of the award-winning docuseries in 2001. While some teams may have been hesitant to allow cameras to follow them behind the scenes, Newsome saw the upside.

Former New York Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that he had reservations about allowing his team to be on "Hard Knocks" until Newsome encouraged him to do so.

"He made a really interesting point that convinced me," Tannenbaum said. "He's like, 'When the cameras are on, the players compete more, because the eyes of the football world are on them.' I never had thought of it that way. After our experience, I completely agree with [Ozzie]. It made practices a heck of a lot more competitive. That was a massive positive I didn't expect. It allowed for people's authentic personalities to come out. That team had a ton of characters on it. It was a much different experience, much more positive, than I would have expected."

The Ravens will be part of the upcoming in-season "Hard Knocks," as the entire AFC North will be the focus of the program, which premieres Dec. 3.

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