Baltimore Ravens take Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton at No. 14 overall in NFL Draft

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

Soon after arriving on Notre Dame's campus in June 2019, Kyle Hamilton had a chance to meet fellow safety and former Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Ed Reed ahead of his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Less than three years later, Hamilton is headed to Baltimore as his potential heir and the 14th overall pick in the NFL Draft. 

"I feel like it’s kind of something written in the stars, I guess," Hamilton told reporters on site in Las Vegas. "I’m excited to hopefully fill those shoes. I know it’s big expectations, but I feel like I can exceed them." 

Asked what player comes to mind when he thinks of the Ravens, Hamilton smiled. 

"I think you know which player I think of," he said. "I think of Ed Reed when I think of the Ravens. That’s awesome. I have met Ed Reed. He’s a cool dude. Great guy." 

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Reed's message to the Irish players in the summer of 2019 was one of selflessness. "Pick up the trash," was his mantra.

Whether a captain, a rookie or a 10-year veteran, still "pick up the trash," meaning do all the little things that lead to winning. Reed, picked 24th overall out of Miami in 2002, did plenty of that in his 11-year career with the Ravens, including 64 interceptions, nine Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title after the 2012 season. 

“I just hope to keep the tradition going,” Hamilton told ABC. “They already have a great team. I just hope to add to the defense and do what I can.”

Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton (14) during the Notre Dame-USC NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Hamilton joins Ravens linebacker Daelin Hayes, his teammate in 2019-20; and Ravens offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, the sixth-overall pick in 2016, as Notre Dame products on the Baltimore roster. 

Alison Harbaugh, daughter of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, is a sophomore attacker on the Notre Dame women's lacrosse team. 

"Coach Harbaugh obviously has had success," Hamilton said. "Guys on the team love him, invest in him. It's a great franchise, a great culture, even with a bunch of vets on the team I can look to for advice. It's a great situation I'm going into. It might just be, looking back on it, the perfect thing to happen to me." 

The irony, perhaps, is that for such an undeniably gifted player whose only wart might be his straight-line speed, Hamilton was watching his draft stock fall in slow motion. Hamilton still became the highest-drafted Notre Dame product since 2018, when offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey went sixth and ninth overall. 

Hamilton joined Chargers defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (2019) and Vikings safety Harrison Smith (2012) as the only Notre Dame defensive players taken in the first round over the past 25 years. 

Projected as high as No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions in late March mock drafts, Notre Dame’s All-American safety reached Las Vegas, this year's draft location, with little clarity on his next workplace. 

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Hamilton posted a pre-draft video that showed off his navy blue Alexander McQueen suit, tapered pants and white sneakers. He partnered with the "Call of Duty" video game franchise on sleeve markings in the Task Force 141 mode. 

“Nothing too crazy,” he said. “I think it came out really well. Subtle yet effective.” 

Stitched into the left lining of his suit jacket, Hamilton had a copy of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech from 1910. Hamilton said that was his senior quote at the Marist School in Atlanta.

“The gist of it: Don’t really worry about the critics; don’t worry about anybody else that’s talking about you, this and that,” Hamilton said. “The real credit belongs to you – who’s failing, who’s succeeding. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for.” 

As decision day drew closer, several reputable mock drafts had Hamilton falling as far as No. 11 to the Washington Commanders. Peter King of NBC Sports pegged Hamilton for No. 7 overall to the New York Giants.

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No safety has been drafted in the top three overall since UCLA’s Eric Turner went to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 2 pick in 1991. 

Since 2000, just two safeties have been taken among the top-five overall picks: the late Sean Taylor (2004) and Eric Berry (2010). Both went fifth in their respective drafts. 

Hamilton was hoping to become just the third Notre Dame defensive player selected in the top 10 in the past four-plus decades. Since defensive end Ross Browner went eighth overall in 1978, the only Irish defenders to go in the top 10 were cornerback Todd Lyght (fifth in 1991) and defensive tackle Bryant Young (seventh in 1994).  

Lyght was part of the Notre Dame coaching staff that helped recruit Hamilton as a four-star prospect in the Class of 2019. 

Defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn went 21st overall in 1997. Even after falling out of the top 10, Hamilton still became the highest-drafted Irish defender since the 49ers took a future Hall of Famer in Young. 

Hamilton’s many boosters argued that his size, instincts, intelligence and ball skills – eight interceptions in 31 career games – should override any concerns over a lack of pure speed. However, minor ankle surgery after the 2020 season kept him out of spring practice last year, and Hamilton missed all but one quarter of the final seven games in his junior season. 

Along with Irish running back Kyren Williams, Hamilton skipped the Fiesta Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. 

His disappointing 40-yard dash times — his 4.59 clocking at the NFL Scouting Combine was second-slowest out of the 15 safeties timed — and inability to return to the field last fall despite multiple platelet-rich plasma treatments seemed to give NFL decision makers more pause than normal with such an athletically gifted player. 

Chris O’Leary, Notre Dame’s safeties coach, traveled to Las Vegas along with Irish coach Marcus Freeman to be there for Hamilton and his family on draft night. Asked recently what he would tell reluctant NFL executives when it came to Hamilton and his draft worthiness, O’Leary chuckled. 

“They’re crazy,” he said. “That’s it. That’s mind-boggling. Watch the film. I told an NFL coach I was talking to the other day, in my mind – and obviously I’ve got bias – but he’s the biggest no- brainer that I’ve ever seen. There’s not any doubt in my mind that he’s going to have Pro Bowl success in the NFL.”

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What they’re saying

“To coach a guy that has the character he has, the mental capacity he has, I’ve never seen anything like it. The guy asks questions that we haven’t even thought about as coaches. You always want guys with those intangibles, but then with his talent level – you couldn’t pick a better guy to coach.” 

— Chris O’Leary, Notre Dame defensive backs coach/safeties

Hamilton's Golden Notre Dame moment

There is range, and then there is the ridiculous amount of ground Hamilton was somehow able to cover in last year’s season-opening overtime win at Florida State. 

As quarterback Jordan Travis dropped back and later scrambled to his right, Hamilton was on the opposite hashmark. As a Seminoles receiver broke free along the near sideline, Hamilton raced over and made a diving interception of Travis’ underthrown pass 30 yards downfield.

It was Hamilton’s second pick of the night, and he would add just one more to his ultimate college total of eight interceptions. But no individual highlight captured the attention of college football as a whole quite like Hamilton’s impossible pick in prime time last Sept. 5. 

“I kind of sprinted over that way and I could see whoever it was cut upfield,” Hamilton said in the postgame news conference. “I just ran to it, luckily got to it in time. I didn’t know if I was going to get there, but glad I did.” 

Five things to know about Kyle Hamilton

► 1 — Still voted a consensus All-American despite missing all but one quarter of Notre Dame’s final seven games due to an injured knee. 

► 2 — Derrek Hamilton, his father, was a 6-foot-7 forward who played professional basketball for 13 seasons in Europe. The elder Hamilton was third in the Metro Conference in scoring as a Southern Miss senior (19.1 points per game) and was a third-round pick of the New Jersey Nets in 1988. He went 52nd overall, one spot ahead of 13-year NBA forward Anthony Mason. 

► 3 — Started and co-hosted a successful podcast, “Inside the Garage,” before his final season at Notre Dame. Was joined on the show by Notre Dame cornerbacks Cam Hart and KJ Wallace and walk-on wide receiver Conor Ratigan. 

► 4 — Before a growth spurt in his early teens, Hamilton was an undersized-but-scrappy point guard who played AAU basketball in the Atlanta area with future Notre Dame teammate and linebacker JD Bertand. They've known each other since the seventh grade. 

► 5 — Older brother Tyler, a 6-4 defensive specialist, played college basketball at Penn (three seasons) and William & Mary from 2015-20. 

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com. Email him at mberardino@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.