Following the departure of veteran Chuck Clark this offseason, rising sophomore Kyle Hamilton is projected to slot into the starting strong safety role for the Baltimore Ravens in 2023.
Hamilton, the No. 14 overall pick in last year’s draft, is coming off a strong rookie campaign, where he emerged as a key defensive piece for the team over the second half of the season. In replacing Clark as the full-time starter at safety, Hamilton will work in tandem with Marcus Williams as the new starting position duo.
We did not see this combination much at all in 2022 for several reasons. With Clark playing 100% of defensive snaps at strong safety, Hamilton settled into a nickel/slot defender role, where he ultimately thrived as the year progressed. As a true safety, though, his snaps were minimal. Additionally, Williams missed nearly half the regular season after suffering a dislocated wrist injury early in the year.
Despite this pairing have little track record together, expectations and recognition alike are high. PFF’s Jim Wyman recently listed the NFL’s best duos at every position and the Ravens were his pick at the safety spot. He touted all of Hamilton’s high grades in advanced metrics as part of the reasoning.
“Hamilton quietly put together a dominant rookie year of his own, as he led all safeties in PFF grade at 87.6,” Wyman wrote. “Hamilton had at least an 83.0 PFF grade in all four major grading categories. He had an 87.7 run defense grade, 85.7 as a pass-rusher and 83.0 in coverage, giving him about as well-rounded a rookie season as we’ve ever seen.”
He also noted that Williams had a down year grading-wise but still profiles as a top-end player at the position.
“Williams, on the other hand, is coming off his lowest-ranked PFF grade season since 2018, and he still graded amongst the top 20 safeties in the league with a 73.9 PFF grade,” Wyman said.
Hamilton’s effectiveness in all three facets of defense — against the run, in pass coverage, and rushing the quarterback — makes him especially versatile. It will be interesting to see his transition into playing a more true safety role in 2023. While that’s his natural background, again it’s not what he did for the Ravens in his rookie season. Hamilton was primarily close to the line of scrimmage and covering slot pass-catchers in man defense.
With more free roam and flexibility, it’s very possible Hamilton could blossom even more, especially now with a year of comfortability under his belt. Hamilton’s first few games in 2022 were up-and-down but he improved significantly in November onwards. By January, he was one of the defense’s most important players.
As for Williams, while his PFF grade was a five-year low mark, he was still plenty effective in his first season with the Ravens. He began the year on a hot streak with multiple interceptions through the opening month before getting injured.
Upon returning later in the year, he didn’t make quite as many impact plays but his presence in pass coverage was still evident. Now back at 100% heading into 2023, Hamilton might even be flying under the radar a bit, as he’s one of the league’s top safeties in pass defense.
Hamilton and Williams’ skill sets complement each other well and it will be exciting to see how defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald deploys them together in the secondary this season.