It is rare to see and even harder to believe when generational talents fall out of the top 10 selections in the NFL Draft, yet it happens every few years. Over the last decade, we’ve seen the likes of J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald, two of the greatest defensive linemen in league history, not come off the board in the first handful of picks in their respective drafts. Given all they have accomplished an argument can be made that they should’ve gone first overall in hindsight.
A more recent example of that rare occurrence came in last year’s draft when Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons fell out of the top 10 and right into the laps of the Dallas Cowboys. They had already passed on him once to trade back so that their division rival Philadelphia Eagles could select Heisman trophy-winning wide receiver, DeVonta Smith, out of Alabama but the value was too great to pass up a second time around and they took him at No. 12 overall.
Many pundits believed that linebacker was far from the Cowboys’ biggest need much like they said about the Baltimore Ravens and the safety position heading into this year’s draft. Cornerback was dubbed as Dallas’ most glaring weakness but after both Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II came off the board in the first nine picks, there weren’t any prospects at the position deemed worthy of a top 15 selection so they took the best player available.
Little did they or anyone else know that they already had an elite corner on their roster in Trevon Diggs who would go on to lead the league in interceptions and get named First-Team All-Pro in 2021. As impressive as he was last season, the star of their team and arguably the biggest catalyst for their incredible turnaround on the defensive side of the ball in terms of coming up with turnovers and clutch stops was Parsons.
He entered training camp and flashed in the preseason as an off-ball linebacker but made his biggest impact in the regular season as a pass rusher. Once he started lining up on the edge, Parsons used his elite athleticism to establish himself as one of the game’s most dangerous difference-makers on defense in just his first season. In 16 games, he racked up 84 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, three pass breakups, and three forced fumbles on his way to winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award by a landslide.
Parsons’ ability to impact the game in a multitude of facets helped turn a team coming off a losing season into one of the top contenders in the entire league.
Fast-forward to the 2022 offseason and the Ravens are coming off their first losing season since 2015 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017. General Manager Eric DeCosta was judicious in deciding which players to bring back, strategically aggressive in free agency. He addressed some of their biggest needs with quality to top tier veterans, and exercised patience in the 2022 NFL Draft that wrapped up this past weekend.
Like Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, DeCosta and the Ravens had a generational talent fall to them in the first round at a position that wasn’t a need but the value was too good to pass up. Without trading back, as the Cowboys did before scooping up the falling Parsons the year before, the Ravens were able to take star Notre Dame safety, Kyle Hamilton, at No. 14 overall with the first of their two picks in the first round.
His unique blend of size, length, and athleticism made him one of the most heralded prospects in this year’s class when the pre-draft process began. After running a slower than expected 40-yard dash time both at the Combine and his Pro Day his stock must have dropped in the eyes of the teams that picked ahead of the Ravens. They were elated when he was still available when they were on the clock and turned the card in expeditiously.
While it remains to be seen what any of the returning or new players’ roles will be in first-year Defensive Coordinator Mike MacDonald’s scheme, it will most certainly be an adaptive version of the hybrid 3-4 system that they’ve been running for over a decade. Nevertheless, a versatile chess piece and matchup weapon like Hamilton will allow the Ravens to deploy so many more different formations, alignments in both the front seven and secondary, and sub-packages.
For example, covering the tight end position has been the bane of the Ravens’ existence on defense for years dating back to their 2012 Super Bowl winning season when franchise greats Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were at the end of the twilights of their Hall of Fame careers. With Hamilton in the fold to go along with prized free agent safety Marcus Williams, stalwart veteran Chuck Clark and a rejuvenated Tony Jefferson, that will be a thing of the past.
They will be less reliant on the inside linebacker position where they have struggled with consistency since losing C.J. Mosely in free agency following the 2018 season. The three biggest areas where Hamilton is projected to help and improve the Ravens’ defense are in generating more turnovers, limiting big plays, and consistently coming up with timely stops to give the ball back to Lamar Jackson and the offense.
In 2021, the Ravens tied with the Las Vegas Raiders for the fifth-fewest turnovers in the league with a mere 15 whereas the Cowboys more than doubled that total with a league-leading total of 34. They also allowed long gains and scoring plays through the air seemingly at will on a weekly basis last year and couldn’t get off the field late in games down the stretch.
I’m not suggesting that the injection of Hamilton into the unit will be a cure-all for all their struggles from a year ago because injuries played a significant factor in their ultimate downfall. However, I do believe that he pairs nicely with pieces already in place and that have been brought in over the past few months.
He is the kind of special one-of-a-kind talent that can take this defense and as a result, this team to new heights in a similar fashion to what Parson did for the Cowboys as a rookie. Even if he doesn’t run bring home the DROY hardware, his impact on the 2022 Ravens has the potential to be profound.
For an even more in-depth breakdown of what Hamilton brings and can do in the Ravens’ defense from a deeper X&O’s standpoint, I highly recommend checking out article posted below from Baltimore Beatdown’s own Spencer Schultz.