A number of different players have jockeyed for the top spot on most public draft boards over the course of the 2021 season and 2022 NFL Draft process.
But while the exact “top player” has shifted on a weekly basis, one name has been in consistent contention: Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton.
Hamilton is widely regarded as one of the best players at any position in the nation. While the safety position might not be held in the same esteem as some others, Hamilton’s ability is undeniable. He brings a rare blend of size, athleticism, football IQ, instincts, and technique to the field, giving him an incredibly diverse skill set. Hamilton was a game-changing player for Notre Dame, and he could have an immediate impact in the NFL.
As it so happens, the New York Giants have a gaping hole at the safety position. They’re also transitioning to a new defensive scheme which depends heavily on Cover-1 shells and good free safety play. Could Hamilton be a transformative player for the Giants?
Lead: Kyle Hamilton (14)
Games Watched: vs. Clemson (2020), vs. Florida State (2021), vs. Purdue (2021), vs. Wisconsin (2021)
Red Flags: Knee (2021)
Games Played: 31
Tackles For a loss: 7.5
Passes Defensed: 16
Games Played: 7
Tackles For a loss: 2.0
Passes Defensed: 4
Best: Size, football IQ, mental processing, range, explosiveness, run defense, coverage
Worst: long speed
Projection: A starting safety with position and scheme versatility and All-Pro upside
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton boasts a rare combination of size, athleticism, football IQ, and competitive toughness.
Hamilton sports a very versatile frame at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. His size allows him to effectively play near the line of scrimmage as a box safety, slot defender, or pseudo-linebacker. He also has surprisingly fluid hips for his size, a very explosive lower body, and enough long speed to effectively man the deep coverage zone in a Cover-1 defense.
While Hamilton’s size and athleticism are immediately apparent, his football IQ, instincts, and mental processing form the foundation for his game.
Hamilton is a leader on the defense with a great understanding of both defensive and offensive concepts. He’s a great communicator before the snap, often helping to align teammates, making sure there aren’t coverage breakdowns, and calling out offensive tendencies. Hamilton does a good job of processing and diagnosing the offense after the snap. He plays with an instinctive quickness, allowing him to act almost in unison with the offense.
Hamilton is a great zone defender, quickly hitting his landmarks and playing with great situational awareness. He is rarely manipulated by offensive misdirection and is able to avoid schemed conflicts or traffic. Hamilton plays with one eye in the backfield, has a very quick downhill trigger on running plays or underneath passes, and very good “click and close” quickness. Hamilton’s mental processing, fluid lower body, and explosiveness give him great range in zone coverage and he is able to make plays far away from his starting point.
Hamilton takes great paths to the ball from his coverage zones. He attacks downhill well, anticipates blockers and modifies his route accordingly. He has a great closing burst, and is a very good form tackler. Hamilton doesn’t shy away from contact and is a hard hitter who rarely gives up significant yards after contact.
He is also a capable man coverage defender with plenty of size and athleticism to match up with tight ends and running backs. He has enough speed to run with most bigger players down the field, while his rare length and closing burst give him a big “catch denial” radius. Hamilton arrives in a hurry and uses his length and mass well to attack the catch point or jar the ball loose with a hard hit. He is disruptive at the catch point and is quick to knock the ball away or react to an opportunity for an interception.
There are few true weaknesses in Hamilton’s game. While he is certainly athletic and has great range from the single-high position, he has only average long speed. His speed doesn’t significantly limit his range, but teams will want to avoid matching him up on particularly athletic receivers in one-on-one situations.
Teams will also want to do their due diligence on Hamilton’s injured knee. He was limited to just seven games in 2021 due to a “fat pad impingement”. There is, reportedly, no structural damage and his meniscus is “no longer affected”. However, teams will want to make sure his knee is sound and his long-term prognosis is good.
Overall Grade: 9.5
Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton projects as a starting safety at the NFL level with positional and schematic versatility.
Hamilton can play free safety, box or strong safety, a pseudo-linebacker role (such as “moneybacker” or “STAR”), or come down to the slot to defend tight ends or running backs who motion to the position. Hamilton has a legitimately rare blend of size and athleticism for the position, but it’s his football IQ and mental processing that unlock his potential and give him a Pro Bowl or All-Pro ceiling.
Hamilton has excellent mental footwork, never appearing confused, panicked, or hurried by the offense. His instincts, combined with a surprisingly fluid lower body and great quickness, make up for long speed that’s simply “average” for the position. Hamilton is a great run defender who comes downhill quickly and with bad intentions. He diagnoses running plays quickly and accurately and is very quick to transition from a backpedal (or zone coverage) to driving downhill.
He also has upside as a blitzer, though he wasn’t asked to do much of that at Notre Dame. Hamilton’s versatility and downhill burst should allow him to rush from unexpected angles or effectively disguise coverages in exotic blitz designs.
Teams will need to do their homework on Hamilton’s knee, if only to ensure a good long-term prognosis. Assuming his knee checks out, Hamilton is one of the rare defenders with the ability to fundamentally change how a team is able to play defense. He can be a weapon to counter modern “wide open” offenses and allow aggressive “multiple” defenses to fully open their playbooks.