With the addition of Kyle Hamilton, the Ravens have added another key ingredient to their new recipe for playing defense.
Baltimore ranked last in the NFL in pass defense in 2021, allowing 278.9 passing yards per game. Drafting Hamilton with the 14th overall pick and signing Marcus Williams in free agency gives the Ravens a different DNA at safety – two versatile players with excellent range who will be expected to make Baltimore's secondary more diverse, more adept at forcing turnovers, and less vulnerable to aerial attacks from top quarterbacks in the AFC North like Joe Burrow and Deshaun Watson.
Adding Williams and Hamilton to a safety rotation that includes savvy veteran Chuck Clark, Brandon Stephens, Tony Jefferson and Geno Stone gives Head Coach John Harbaugh and first-year Defensive Coordinator Mike MacDonald plenty of options.
Last season, the Ravens played dime coverage (six defensive backs) just 17 percent of the time, and they were without Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters all season, while All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 13.
Getting Peters and Humphrey back healthy next season, playing alongside the revamped safety rotation, dynamically increases the number of defensive looks the Ravens can deploy effectively.
Harbaugh is already pondering the possibilities with Hamilton.
"Kyle's a very multipurpose type player," Harbaugh said. "He can play deep. He can play in the middle. He can come down and play dime, nickel. He plays man coverage, he plays zone coverage, he tackles people, and he blitzes.
"Chuck's been here for a long time. He's one of our best players on defense. He wears the green dot. He's a leader, he's a play-caller. I know Kyle's excited to work with Chuck and learn from him. We just signed Marcus Williams, one of the best safeties in football. Kyle will learn from him too. They'll feed off each other."
Asked if there were situation where he might use four safeties, Harbaugh smiled.
"Hey, why not?," Harbaugh said smiling.
The Ravens may not play four safeties often, but having strength at that position is trending in the NFL. Using two high safeties with range who can protect against deep passes is becoming a more popular way to defend quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen – strong-armed passers who love to attack downfield. The two-high safety look was one of Macdonald's favorite formations when he was defensive coordinator at Michigan last year.
Having a 6-foot-4, 220-pound athlete like Hamilton who can move around on defense has the potential to make Baltimore's defense less predictable, and more difficult for quarterbacks to read pre-snap. Deception is key in today's NFL, because the quicker a quarterback can decipher a defense, the more quickly he can attack it by anticipating which receiver has the most favorable matchup.
But Hamilton isn't just a pass defender. He brings value as a physical run defender and blitzer who will level ballcarriers, especially if he attacks unblocked. At Notre Dame, Hamilton played in a defense that allowed him freedom to roam, and he's looking forward to having the same experience at the NFL level.
"I do pride myself on my versatility," Hamilton said. "I feel like every football player is versatile in their own ways, and I just do it differently. I play different levels of the field, and I feel like I do them all well. I feel like my versatility is unique and something that Baltimore will be happy to use."
Until Thursday night, Harbaugh never expected Hamilton to be available at No. 14., and that's what he told Hamilton when he visited Baltimore before the draft.
"What are you doing here?" Harbaugh said to Hamilton, jokingly. "Nice to meet you. But I didn't think this chance was really going to happen. We make our plans and God laughs. That's what beautiful about it."