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As an NFL fan, you might not be ready to shift into draft mode.
But we like the idea of introducing some of the bigger-name prospects for the 2022 NFL draft now, at least giving readers a big-picture familiarity of how things stand now.
Had we written this one a year ago, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance almost certainly would have made our top 10. All three went in the top 11 picks this spring.
A lot can change for even highly touted prospects over the course of a single season.
The 10 players we’re profiling here — five quarterbacks and five non-QBs — aren’t guaranteed to be first-rounders in 2022. But they’re prospects who enter the season with the opportunity to lock up that caliber of draft status — and perhaps also have the potential to tumble.
Let's take a look at the top-rated safety in the 2022 NFL draft and one of the best defenders in college football.
Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton
6-foot-4, 219 pounds
2020 stats: 63 tackles (4.5 for loss), seven passes defended, one interception
The son of former professional basketball player Derrek Hamilton, a third-round pick in the 1988 NBA draft, Kyle was born in Greece while his father was playing professionally overseas but was raised in the Atlanta area.
Hamilton was Rivals’ No. 75 overall recruit in the Class of 2019, but it was clear that Notre Dame knew it had something truly special on its hands when he played extensively as a true freshman and was named the program’s Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year.
But despite his rare size for a safety, Hamilton was asked to cover quite a bit as a freshman, logging four interceptions (one pick-6) and 10 passes defended in 2019 for an Irish team that finished 11-2, won six straight to close out the season and was putting together an excellent defense. On his first defensive snap in college, Hamilton ran back a pick-six vs. New Mexico.
That carried over into Hamilton’s true-sophomore season. Although his ball production fell off a bit, his value to the defense actually increased. As a full-time starter in 2020, Hamilton logged only one pick, although it did come vs. Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
It’s hard to imagine Hamilton going quite that high. But his excellent range, instincts, size and impact make him a candidate to be a top-10 overall selection if he continues his rise.
Kyle Hamilton’s strengths
For as big as he is, Hamilton has exceptional range and athletic traits that almost cast him as the perfect hybrid player for this day and age. He plays fast, covers enough ground to be a single-high safety and also can play up in the box and shut down opponents’ run games.
He’s lined up just about everywhere in his first two college seasons: middle-field safety, linebacker, blitzer, corner and slot defender. That would be impressive for an upperclassman; for an 18- and 19-year old, it’s truly rare.
Hamilton processes as quickly as a quarterback is expected to. He reacts quickly to blocking schemes and route combinations to get a bead on those plays, and when you add in his play speed and closing ability, Hamilton can make his impact felt all over the field.
Last season, Hamilton cleaned up his tackling a bit from his freshman season. Maybe of his stops came close to the line of scrimmage, and he had a slew of tackles in front of the sticks, especially on money downs (third and fourth downs).
He’s adept in zone and improved in man coverage (especially vs. backs and tight ends), displaying good eye discipline much of the time and patient enough to know his athleticism can help him close fast and shut down plays late. Despite the drop in picks last season, he wasn’t tested all that often — and he had his hands on a high rate of passes that did enter his part of the field.
On the surface, Hamilton reminds us of Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith in a lot of ways. Size-wise, they’re similar, and yes, both played for Notre Dame. But Hamilton actually could have an impact similar to what Minkah Fitzpatrick and a healthy Derwin James bring to their respective NFL defenses.
Hamilton has the earmarks of a scheme-diverse defender who can elevate an NFL unit in time. He is an extremely well-rounded player who should have mass appeal as a prospect whenever he declares. How big a step up can he take in what roundly is assumed likely to be Hamilton’s final college football season?
Kyle Hamilton’s weaknesses
Hamilton can be over-aggressive to a fault. He’ll vacate his safety position to bite on routes and be victimized on the backside (see the second Clemson game and the playoff loss to Alabama). Although it appeared to be more of an issue his freshman year, Hamilton will try at times to make too many plays himself and get burned by it.
He also has left a few interceptions on the field. Hamilton has playmaking instincts and was a high-school QB and receiver, so the pass-game recognition and ball skills are there. But there have been times where he’s a hair late or doesn’t quite gain proper position to potentially take the ball away more often.
Is he going to be a deep safety on the next level? That’s going to be a debate. Hamilton’s instincts and diagnostic skills could lend themselves to that spot, but covering half the field might not be the best way to utilize his strengths.
Hamilton will still miss some tackles he should make. He does a good job of disrupting ball carriers’ paths and is strong and long enough to make plays from the backside. But Hamilton will come in too hot and overrun some tackle tries and also stop his feet on contact occasionally.
Taking better angles to the ball — both in pass and run — should be on Hamilton’s to-do list. We'd also like to see him be more aggressive trying to strip the ball away on tackles. He enters the 2021 season with zero forced fumbles and recoveries combined.
Starting with the opener against Florida State, Notre Dame’s schedule is among the more challenging in the country. They’ll face multiple future NFL quarterbacks in the regular season, including likely 2022 prospects in Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and USC’s Kedon Slovis.
Hamilton is one of the best all-around defenders in the country, and he’s expected to replace the departed Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah as the unquestioned leader and centerpiece of the Irish defense. Another impressive season could not only make Hamilton a first-round pick, but also a possible top-10 overall selection. We’ve not had a safety land in that portion of the draft since Jamal Adams went sixth overall in 2017.
Sure, we’d like to see Hamilton make more plays on the ball, as he did in his freshman year. That ultimately could go a long way toward solidifying his status as an elite prospect for the 2022 NFL draft.
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