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Ravens take Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with No. 14 overall pick in NFL draft: ‘It was a no-brainer for us’

The Ravens took Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton with the No. 14 overall pick Thursday night, adding a playmaking prospect to a crowded safety room in a mild first-round surprise.

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, who called Hamilton the best safety in the NFL draft, said he didn’t expect the consensus All-American to be available past the No. 5 overall pick. Hamilton’s only the third safety the Ravens have drafted in the first round in franchise history, after Hall of Famer Ed Reed (2002) and Matt Elam (2013).

“Just too good of a player,” DeCosta said after Thursday’s first round. “It was kind of a no-brainer, to be honest, for us. It wasn’t even contemplation. Had the phone been ringing at that time, we would not have traded out, away from him. And just these kind of players, we feel, are unique. And he can help us in so many ways.”

Safety seemed to be a secondary or even tertiary need in Baltimore ahead of the draft. Marcus Williams, one of the NFL’s top ballhawks, was the Ravens’ top free-agent acquisition, signed to a five-year, $70 million deal last month. Chuck Clark, the defense’s on-field signal-caller, played every defensive snap last season. Brandon Stephens, a third-round pick in 2021, emerged late last season as a versatile defensive back.

But with Hamilton’s addition, coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens would use more three-safety personnel groupings, as they often did in 2019. Harbaugh indicated that the team has the flexibility to line up its safeties in the slot, as a dime safety in six-defensive-back packages or even as the middle linebacker.

“Great makeup, pedigree, productive, tough and physical,” DeCosta said of Hamilton. “He can do a myriad of different things for us. And never dreamed in a million years that he would be there. Reminds me of some of the old drafts with [former general manager] Ozzie [Newsome], where it just seemed like, in the early days, good players would just fall down the board to us. It kind of felt that way.”

In a conference call Thursday with reporters, Hamilton said Ravens officials had discussed his potential role in first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald’s defense, but “not anything specifically.” He had three interceptions and seven passes defended over seven games in an injury-shortened 2021 while impressing as a run defender. The 6-foot-4 Hamilton played mostly in the slot last season for Notre Dame but was also used often as a deep safety and as a box safety.

“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. A D-lineman can be versatile, because he can have good pass rush along with run stuffing and have a spin move or bull rush. It’s the same thing with a quarterback who is dual threat. [There’s] versatility all around, but I feel like my versatility is unique and something that Baltimore will be happy to use.”

An early run on pass rushers and cornerbacks doused the Ravens’ interest in trading up, according to DeCosta. Even after a flurry of trades, one of which helped the Philadelphia Eagles land Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, the Ravens had the option of grabbing a handful of players linked to them at No. 14, including Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II, Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie and Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning.

Instead, they went with Hamilton, one of the most accomplished players in the draft, whose stock had slipped during the predraft process over concerns about his speed. He posted a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, then followed with a 4.70 at Notre Dame’s pro day.

“In terms of falling, or whatever, or sliding, like people say, you never really know going into the draft whether somebody is falling or sliding,” Hamilton said. “They just … they go where they’re supposed to go. So, I feel like I just went to the right team at the end of the day. Ten years later, I’ll be looking back at this glad that I came to the Ravens.”

“We would not have drafted him if he couldn’t play in space,” DeCosta said. “I mean, a safety has to play in space in the modern NFL. And so he’s got awareness. He’s intelligent. Tremendous range. Again, people talk about his 40 time. I could tell you what some of our best players have run, 40-wise, over the years. And this guy covers ground with range and speed and awareness. He’s quick. He’s got great eyes. So he can do it all.”

Hamilton’s arrival will lift hopes in Baltimore for a much-improved secondary. Battered by injuries and beset by big plays, the Ravens finished last in the NFL in pass defense last season (278.9 yards allowed per game). Ravens officials were already looking forward to having top cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters back from season-ending injuries. Then they added Williams. When Hamilton was still available at No. 14 overall, and the phone didn’t ring with any trade offers, DeCosta called it “a gift that we haven’t always had.”

“It never rang when we drafted [left tackle] Ronnie Stanley,” he said. “And it never rang when we drafted Marlon Humphrey. And those were pretty good picks. And I feel that we’ll look back on this pick and we’ll be glad that the phone didn’t ring.”

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