What to make of Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton’s stock ahead of 2022 NFL draft

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Editor’s note: With the second overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions select … an edge rusher? A quarterback? Yet another defensive back? It’s impossible to say for sure, although it is possible to whittle the list of possibilities to seven. MLive will profile each of those players in the coming days. Today: Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton. Previously: Aidan Hutchinson | Kayvon Thibodeaux | Travon Walker | Jermaine Johnson | Malik Willis

Name: Kyle Hamilton

Position: Safety

School: Notre Dame

Hometown: Atlanta

Size: 6-foot-4, 220 pounds

40-yard dash: 4.59 seconds

3-cone drill: 6.9 seconds

Bench press: n/a

Vertical jump: 38 inches

Broad jump: 10 feet, 11 inches

Key stats: Hamilton had 34 tackles, two for loss and three interceptions in seven games. He had four picks in his breakout freshman campaign back in 2019. Pro Football Focus had him allowing a 42.3 passer rating on 28 targets in coverage last season. He allowed 14 receptions on those targets, with only one touchdown surrendered. Hamilton was an active tackler in 2020, with 63 total takedowns across 11 games that season. He didn’t register a sack, with 7.5 tackles for loss across 31 career games at Notre Dame.

Why he makes sense

The Detroit Lions need help at safety. Hamilton is tops in this class. Detroit’s defense, more specifically, needs vertical playmakers who can flip the field. Hamilton checks a ton of those boxes. Hamilton is great at tracking the ball, then having the unique frame to go up and make some plays. The Ringer’s draft comparison of Derwin James and Ken Griffey Jr. makes a lot of sense. Hamilton’s 38-inch vertical at 6-foot-4 has him feeling like a safety made to stop tight ends and make plays in the red zone at the next level.

It’s also worth noting that this fanbase should have all the trust in the world when it comes to Aaron Glenn, Aubrey Pleasant and company getting to work with someone like Hamilton. He would be in good hands. Hamilton would also fit nicely next to the dependable Tracy Walker, with DeShon Elliott and Will Harris offering experience in the rotation. Walker got a new deal this offseason. He has only two interceptions across the previous three years. On the flip side, he’s been the team’s leading tackler for two of the last three seasons.

Hamilton can hit 21 miles per hour for top-end speed, according to Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List.” It might take him a second to get cruising, but that’s legit when considering his ability to cover ground and recover when needed. Hamilton’s potential development in coverage makes him feel like a special defensive back prospect. He’s big and is a willing hitter who looks destined to play a hybrid role in this era.

Why he doesn’t make sense

While Hamilton has rare size, concerns with his quickness and recent knee injury seem to have him falling into more familiar territory for an elite safety prospect. Heck, ESPN’s Mel Kiper went from sending Hamilton at Pick 2 one month ago, saying he wouldn’t get out of the first four selections, to dropping him out of the top 10 in his most recent mock draft. It’s a weird year, but it’s even stranger to see Hamilton fluctuate this much in the final weeks.

Also, if we’re being honest? The safeties that could/should be there at Picks 32 or 34 make it much easier to pass on Hamilton that early. Lewis Cine (Georgia), Daxton Hill (Michigan), Jaquan Brisker (Penn State) and Jalen Pitre (Baylor) look like potential big-time additions to the defense too.

Hamilton would be the first safety taken in the top three since Eric Berry in 2010. Before that, it was Sean Taylor at Pick 5 in 2004. Eric Turner was before Berry when he went Pick 2 to Cleveland in 1991. Two years ago, the Lions made history when Jeff Okudah was the highest-drafted cornerback in 20-plus years at Pick 3.

What he says

On his scouting combine experience (via the Inside the Garage podcast): “My combine experience was obviously a blessing. It’s kinda crazy, like as I was walking on the field and everything just looking up, I was like: ‘Been watching this since I was like five years old and I’m actually about to be one of the people to participate.’ It was kinda crazy. I had to take step back and appreciate the moment I was in, other than that, though — It was like, that was one of the most stressful four days of my life. Like I probably grew a couple gray hairs after those four days. It was fun. At the same time, you’re being watched the whole time. Like every single thing you do is being graded — how you’re interreacting with folks. Then in the back of my head, I’m getting on the elevator and I’m next to the cleaning lady. I don’t know if this cleaning has a camera on her. If she’s about to report back about me.”

On watching his comps change after running the 40-yard dash at the combine (via the Inside the Garage podcast): “Before like they were saying, you could see the TV copy on the big screen in the stadium. So before in the warmups, they’re showing me on the big screen obviously. Because that’s like what they were doing on TV. And then they had like a comp up. This is actually kind of funny to me, they had a comp of like me and Derwin James. And it had Derwin’s 40 time as like 4.47. And I hadn’t ran yet at that point. And Derwin’s a do-it-all safety, this and that, and then I run my first 40, obviously not good … And then I look up at the screen and it shows my 40 time and my new comp is like Jeremy Chinn, who is like more of a box safety. And I was like, ‘damn.’”

On his disappointing 40-yard dash time in Indianapolis (via the Inside the Garage podcast): “I knew I didn’t run well, because I was like, my legs were not moving. And I came back and my agent just texted me, ‘uh, 4.59.’ I think that’s what it was. And then talked to my running coach and he was like trying to coach me up on some stuff. Then I texted like y’all. Texted my family, and I was like ‘F, F, F.’ But then I thought I did everything else really well.”

What they say

Lions GM Brad Holmes when asked about taking a safety that early: “I’ve always said we want a game-changer at that pick. So whatever position that is, again, we’re comfortable at multiple positions. If the draft was today, we could turn in that card and sleep good at night. But at the end of the day, we’re looking for that game-changer. So whatever position that is, we’re looking for game-changers, whatever that position is.”

Holmes (cont.): “(Offensive tackle and quarterback) are premium positions. They can really lay the foundation of your team’s success. I truly believe that. There’s other game-changers at other positions that you can find outside of those positions, but obviously when you want to have a quarterback that can lead your football team, you really (want) that guy that can protect your quarterback and then at the end of they day, you want that guy that can get after your quarterback, too. That’s why I think they’re all what you call premium positions. But I do think there are other positions that you can find some game-changers on.”

Dane Brugler in his pre-draft guide: “Hamilton frustrates quarterbacks with all the ways he impacts the game and will need an NFL defensive scheme that understands how to maximize his versatile talent. A mash-up of Isaiah Simmons and Justin Simmons, he has the potential to be a diverse matchup weapon in the NFL due to his rare combination of physical traits and natural football instincts.”

The Ringer’s Danny Kelly: “Versatility is a huge calling card for the Notre Dame playmaker, but Hamilton may need to go to a team that has a plan to best utilize his talents. He can sometimes take the bait and come down into the box too quickly on play-action fakes and find himself out of position. He won’t be able to run step-for-step in man coverage against some smaller, shiftier slot receivers. And while he brings good range, he may lack high-end, twitched-up speed to play in single-high looks at the next level. Teams will have to dig into the knee injury that ended his season in 2021.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper: “Hamilton is a playmaking safety in a 6-foot-4 frame who would immediately raise the ceiling of a defense that has struggled for years. He can play in the box, out of the slot and as a centerfielder. Normally I’d say this is too high for a safety, but Hamilton is a unique and special defender.”

Kiper on why he later dropped Hamilton out of top 10: “The 40 time was the reason. You talk to people in the NFL when you’re doing mock drafts, that’s what we do, and the consensus was he’d drop just a bit. Eleventh to Washington would be a great centerpiece for their defense, he’s exactly what they’re looking for, that kind of player. I said he was unique, I’ve said that through the process, (former Notre Dame head coach) Brian Kelly even said that the other day, that he’s unique and rare. Had he run better, he’d have been the second or the fourth pick in the draft. Some people thought he was the best player in the draft prior to that.”

The bottom line

Kyle Hamilton should be a top 10 pick. His 40-yard dash shouldn’t be an extreme deterrent because he looks to have desirable play speed. With that said, Pick 2 is a little rich regarding a safety for a defense with several other needs. The Lions need more of a pass rush, with a glaring need at linebacker. There is even an underrated need on the defensive line, so it’s hard to envision a safety transforming that defense.

Hamilton is the perfect fit for a team with those pieces in place. And that’s why it’s hard to imagine him getting past both of the New York teams with multiple top-10 picks. He’s worth the risk in that situation. That’s not what’s going on in Detroit, especially when considering what safeties could be on the board at Picks 32 and 34.