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Trusting film, not stopwatch: Why the Baltimore Ravens believe Kyle Hamilton is a steal

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The plays that made Kyle Hamilton a top NFL prospect (1:25)

Check out the best highlights from former Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton ahead of his time in the NFL. (1:25)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Kyle Hamilton’s path to the Baltimore Ravens started when he veered right wildly while running his 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.

If this had been track, Hamilton would’ve been disqualified for going outside his lane. His penalty for running this way in front of football scouts: a free fall in the NFL draft.

Hamilton’s slower-than expected time of 4.59 seconds ranked 14th among all safeties at the combine and was the slowest of any safety taken in the first round of the last five drafts. It created doubts whether the Notre Dame safety could cover ground at the next level, and it caused the one-time, top-5 prospect to slide to the Ravens at the No. 14 overall pick.

The Ravens, who have a history of trusting what they see on tape over the stopwatch, have no concerns about Hamilton’s speed.

“You look at his game speed [and] what you see on tape. He’s covering ground,” Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz said. "He’s flying up. He’s showing bursts. He’s showing explosiveness and range. Then you look at your grade, your speed grade, and you have a good grade, and it all matches up, and just the 40[-yard dash time] didn’t match up.”

Case in point: Hamilton’s first of two interceptions against Florida State last season. Starting at the right hashmark, Hamilton ran all the way to the opposite sideline to make the pick. When the pass was thrown, he still needed to cover about 20 yards to get to the spot for the interception.

On one play, Hamilton displayed exceptional instincts, great recognition (he looks at the quarterback and then the receiver before making his break on the ball) and the quickness to close on a receiver.

“People talk about his 40 time; I could tell you what some of our best players have run, 40-wise, over the years,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. "This guy covers ground with range and speed and awareness. He’s quick. He has great eyes. So, he can do it all.”

In 2002, safety Ed Reed plummeted to the Ravens at the No. 24 overall pick after he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds (which is nearly identical to Hamilton’s time). Reed became one of the game’s best ball hawks and got inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019.

In 2003, linebacker Terrell Suggs slid to Baltimore at the No. 10 overall pick because of a slow 40 time. Then-Ravens coach Brian Billick joked that Suggs would never have to run 40 yards to get to the quarterback. Suggs ended up as the franchise’s all-time sacks leader and was the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

No Ravens officials are going to compare Hamilton to either Reed or Suggs. But Baltimore is confident that Hamilton can become the latest defensive first-round pick to change games.

Hamilton can make plays deep in coverage or stop the run by lining up in the box. He has the lowest Total QBR allowed (5.9) in the FBS as the targeted defender in coverage since 2019, according to Sports Info Solutions. Hamilton also allowed just one touchdown in coverage in his entire college career.

“He’s like a chess piece,” Hortiz said. "So, you see that, and you’re fired up that you get a chance to take him at [Pick] 14 and that he fell to you. That’s why you just think he’s going to be gone, because he’s a playmaker at multiple different levels of a defense.”

Despite that versatility, Hamilton knew his 40-yard time would ruin his chances of being one of the first players drafted. Before running at the combine, he looked at the video board at the stadium, which had his comparable as Derwin James, a two-time first-team All-Pro safety. After his disappointing 40, his comparable on the video board changed to Jeremy Chinn, a second-round pick who has become a solid starter for the Panthers.

But Hamilton still wasn’t expected to fall that far. The chances of him being available at the No. 14 pick was 32%, according to the ESPN draft day predictor.

Hamilton, though, wasn’t complaining about where he landed.

“I was just talking with Coach [John Harbaugh] earlier about we'll look back 10 years later and realize it was the perfect fit and everything happened for the right reasons,” Hamilton said before his introductory news conference, before adding some levity. "Selfishly, [this is] a great defensive organization and has produced some pretty good players. There's a safety that was pretty good [Reed], and then a linebacker [Ray Lewis] that was pretty good, I think. So, hopefully I can just add to that and fill those shoes.”