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Kyle Hamilton has been the NFL’s best slot defender this season

The 2022 first-rounder continues to dominate as a hybrid nickel defender despite having a more expanded role.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens second-year defensive back Kyle Hamilton entered the league as one of the best safety prospects to come out in the past decade. However, by the end of his rookie season, the 2022 first-rounder has established himself as one best slot defenders in the NFL.

About midway through the 2022 regular season, after a rocky inconsistent start for him and the Ravens’ secondary as a whole, Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald devised a creative hybrid nickel role for Hamilton to play. Even though he was playing fewer snaps, it allowed them to deploy him in a diverse way that utilized his rare blend of size and athleticism to disrupt opposing offensive game plans both near the line of scrimmage and in space.

Hamilton finished his rookie year as the highest-graded safety in the league according to Pro Football Focus after recording 62 total tackles including four for a loss, two sacks, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and five pass breakups.

After the Ravens traded away veteran strong safety Chuck Clark in the offseason, it was assumed that Hamilton would transition into a more traditional safety role to replace him. Thanks to the emergence of fourth-year pro Geno Stone as an elite ball hawk and the presence of veteran free safety Marcus Williams when he’s been available, that hasn’t had to be the case.

Hamilton has been able to continue playing the hybrid role that made him a rising star and is playing at an even higher level than he did down the stretch as a rookie, especially when it comes to coverage. According to PFF per Dan Pizzuta, there have been 38 cornerbacks and safeties with at least 100 coverage snaps in the slot through the first 11 weeks of the season and Hamilton has allowed the lowest amount of receiving yards per coverage snap with a mark of 0.39.

Pizzuta created an updated alignment chart that shows what percentage of snaps Hamilton spends lined up at the line of scrimmage, in the box, in the slot, out wide, and deep down the field, which further highlights how impressive he has been playing nickel despite not playing in there nearly as often as he did compared to his rookie year.

In many ways, Hamilton has been the key to the Ravens’ tremendous success on defense and even more consistently dominant than All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith. His breakout campaign already includes career highs in interceptions (two), pass deflections (eight), tackles for loss (six), and sacks (three) in 11 games.

The amazing aspect of Hamilton’s game is that he still has room to improve through experience, film study, physical maturation at 22 years old, and further creative innovation of deployment by his coaches. He has already been compared to NBA rookie sensation and 2023 first overall pick Victor Wembanyama of the San Antonio Spurs by Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski because of his insane length and wingspan that helped him record his first career pick-six on the first pass attempt of their Week 10 matchup.

Hamilton should be a lock to make the Pro Bowl this year and be in serious contention for First-Team All-Pro as well. With the Ravens set to play three, potentially four primetime contests depending on schedule flexing down the stretch, there is going to be an even bigger national spotlight on his elite level of play in the second half of the year.