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Jets 2020 NFL Draft Prospect Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

Size, athleticism, and a superior intellect

Boston College v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There is always a guy. You know the type. Everybody knows that guy, the guy who is great at everything. In high school or college there is always that guy who you kind of hate, but in reality you really admire him since there is nothing to dislike other than your own personal envy.

Kyle Hamilton has been that type of guy his entire life. It can be a constant source of frustration to those around him; especially an older brother. It’s tough. You love your brother, but there is always sibling rivalry amongst family members. If you have brother(s) you know what I mean. If you can never beat your brother at anything, even though you are 4 years older than him, it can get, well infuriating.

Kyle’s older brother Tyler said, “He was always good at everything, which sort of is annoying as an older brother. When I was younger, stuff came a little bit more difficult to me at times, specifically with sports. He went out and played lacrosse for one year just for the hell of it. Never touched a lacrosse stick in his life, goes out, makes the team and actually gets playing time.”

It’s not like Tyler was a slouch as an athlete. He received a scholarship to play basketball at Penn, later making a graduate transfer to William & Mary. Of course Kyle was offered a basketball scholarship by Tulane when he was 15.

Tyler is a smart guy. He received a Masters Degree in Business Administration. He took the ACT exam 3 times, finally scoring a 29. A score of 29 is in the 91st percentile which means he scored higher than 91% of all test takers.

A 36 is a perfect score. Kyle is not perfect. He only scored a 30 on the test the only time he took it. A score of 30 on the ACT puts you at the 93rd percentile, meaning he scored higher than 93% of all test takers.

Oh yeah. Kyle is also a member of Mensa. His mom Jackie said, “He’s a Mensa member. He doesn’t act like it. Sometimes he does some silly stuff, but he’s a certified Mensa member.”

The Mensa organization recognizes people who score within the upper two percent of an approved intelligence test. “He likes to have that little bragging right,” Tyler said.

Kyle was always athletic. He inherited that from his dad who was a star basketball player at the University of Southern Mississippi, a third-round pick in the 1988 NBA Draft, and a professional basketball player overseas for more than a decade.

Kyle always liked basketball but loved football a little more. When he was 3 he watched Tyler play football and told his mom he wanted to play too. She explained to him that you had to be at least 6 to play football on an organized team. On the morning of his 6th birthday he awoke to tell his mom he was ready to play football. Too bad his birthday is in March so he would have to wait 5 more months before the football season started.

Of course he starred on the team throwing TD passes and running through defenses like Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith playing on a high school team. It’s no surprise since Kyle always showed high level of talent. He was throwing strikes with a wiffle ball when he was 2 years old. Kyle’s skills seem to never end.

He routinely schools his older brother playing “Call of Duty.” He also beats his brother at bowling, ping pong, shooting pool, and now golf. He started playing golf regularly during his summer break following his sophomore year. He also beats his father Derrek who is a 12 handicap. “He’s ridiculous at golf, It’s not even fun playing with him. He’s so strong, he doesn’t even use his driver,” Tyler said. Derrek Hamilton, estimates Kyle is a 6-handicap golfer.

When Kyle was entering high school there were no thoughts of him becoming a pro at any sport. As a freshman he weighed 135 lbs and was barely 5’ 8”. “I was like any other kid, I wanted to be in the NBA. I wanted to be in the NFL. But at the time it was pretty bleak. Then my dad’s genes kicked in, I guess. I was 6-3 by the end of my sophomore year, so the dream got a little more real,” Kyle said.

Once he grew. So did the scholarship offers from major universities in both basketball and football. He committed to Notre Dame following his junior year at Marist School in Atlanta. While he was once a 3 star prospect, 247 Sports named him a 5 star prospect and one of the top 32 players in all of the 2019 class.

Kyle played in all 13 games at Notre Dame his true freshman season allowing a reception every 34.9 coverage snaps which was 35th nationally among safeties and 2nd among all freshmen college players. Here he steps in the path of a pass early in the game against Purdue breaking up an easy completion. It’s nice to be 6’ 4” on this play.

This is early in the game (in fact the 1st possession) with Hamilton over top of the slot receiver Hamilton is excellent in coverage with oily hips to stay connected to receivers throughout the pattern. This is truly unique for such a tall defender especially at his weight. This is zone coverage. I think the QB thought this was man coverage and that Hamilton would run with the slot receiver. This is an early season game, but it is a defense that Notre Dame used quite frequently.

Hamilton was still working himself back into shape at this point. He injured an ankle in the first game his sophomore year against Duke, and it nagged him the entire year. In the offseason he had surgery to rectify the situation. He had to miss part of the Duke game and the entire USF game. He also was ejected for targeting in the first half of the North Carolina game. He still was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, a second-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and the Walter Camp Foundation, and a third-team All-American by the Associated Press.

He still led the team in tackles with 63 which was one more than Butkus Award-winning linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who played in all 12 games. Hamilton stated, “It was a smart thing to do (the surgery) because it was bothering me the whole season last year, and I was still able to play pretty well. But at the same time, I feel like I could have made a couple more plays if not for that. I don’t want to make excuses, but I just want to play as healthy as possible.”

Hamilton can truly play anywhere on the field, excelling in any role. He can play deep as a single high safety, in a two deep look, as a slot corner, or in a robber role where he is an unaccounted for chess piece for an inventive defensive coordinator. Watch the recognition with speed from a two deep safety look here.

This is an amazing play as Hamilton is 8 yards back from the line of scrimmage on a 4th and 1 at the Notre Dame 34 yard line. This is a jet sweep. The runner is at near full speed when he receives the ball. Yet Hamilton moves up quickly, shooting the gap while making a shoestring tackle for a one yard loss, Incredible.

This year Notre Dame installed a new defense with a new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Chris O’Leary was the new safeties coach, but Hamilton was familiar with him as he was a graduate assistant the year before. Hamilton didn’t get a chance in the spring to practice in the new scheme because of his ankle surgery. Coming into the season Hamilton was anxious to get on the field. “Camp’s going to be really big for me in terms of just getting comfortable within the defense, knowing my assignments, knowing how to play it and how things play out on the field. Getting actual, physical reps rather than mental reps will be really helpful for me,” Hamilton said.

Here again using the same defense it is hard for an offense to understand their blocking assignments when the guy over the slot receiver is not really guarding the slot receiver. Hamilton is like an extra defender who is unaccounted for.

Now it’s one thing to be in position to make a play. It’s another to make the play in the open field against a running back in space. Running backs often make tacklers miss in the hole let along out in space with no help. Yet Hamilton breaks down into great tackling position, squares up, and makes a forceful tackle holding the play to a half yard gain.

This next play is more good fortune rather than some type of great coverage, though it always seems the guys who make those types of plays do so a lot while other never do.

This is a pass that needs to be caught, but watch Hamilton with the great hand eye coordination. You can see his head move as he watches the ball with his eyes the entire way. Hamilton made the catch within a split second of seeing the ball while the tight end missed the catch even though he followed it in all the way from the QB. Some players just have more skill or natural ability than others.

Even though Hamilton was a sophomore FWAA All-America First Team, AFCA All-America Second Team, Walter Camp All-America Second Team, Associated Press All-America Third Team, Phil Steele All-America First Team, The Athletic All-America Second Team, All-ACC First Team, Associated Press First Team All-ACC, Phil Steele All-ACC First Team, and Bednarik Award Semifinalist new DC Freeman reached out to him (after watching tape) to identify mistakes he made last season.

Hamilton is a coachable player. He took the coaching of being more conscious of spatial awareness and working on his tackling. I think the suggestions were met with hard work that showed on that last play.

This play is a zone defense. It at first appears to be man to man with a single high safety. This defense is known as a cover 1 defense. Essentially, the cover 1 is a combination of zone and man-to-man defense. The single-high safety defense plays aggressively. Generally, it allows for more defenders near the line of scrimmage that can attack the offense. Here it’s basically a 4-4-3 defense where you can take advantage of a versatile talent like Hamilton who is like a small linebacker but with great suddenness.

Watch as Hamilton drops back into zone coverage. He reads the play then he moves on the back to make the play as he turns around from catching the ball. That’s suddenness to go from a near dead stop to full speed in a matter of a few steps. It’s similar to the next play only Hamilton does so from a press position on the line.

The shadows make it difficult to see but this is a 4th and 2 play with the tight end blocking down so the left tackle can make a kick out block to open the route. This is a quick pitch to the running back who doesn’t make it 3 steps before he is buried for a 6 yard loss. This is suddenness. You can see better from the end zone view.

This is a missed block by the tackle, but when you pressure your opponents it leads to mistakes. When a player is decisive plus quick he makes those mistakes occur more. On this play in particular I think (not positive) that Hamilton was matched up over the tight end in an effort to guard him in case of a pass. Yet when the tight end blocks down he then sees the run he makes the play with swift thinking by applying heat.

This next clip is of Hamilton in pure slot man coverage on Jashaun Corbin who ran a 4.42/40 in high school. Hamilton gives him some off coverage then mirrors him on his route.

Hamilton is trying to keep Jashaun from crossing the field on him then running away from him which would put Kyle in chase mode. By keeping Jasaun to the left side of the defense he keeps leverage on the play. That means he is between the QB and the receiver so the QB has to throw over him to try and make a completion. Obviously the QB had no shot of doing that but threw the ball anyway. Hamilton’s technique on the play was textbook which resulted in him making the INT.

This next play is the best play of Hamilton’s career so far which shows you some of the skills he has. He has deep coverage to the middle of the field to the right side of the defense. This is instinct along with a mind that can process information quickly then form a plan to use that information.

I watched this live as it happened, and I cannot remember another play like it. What Hamilton understood was that when the QB rolls to his right he has pretty much cut the field in half as to where he can throw the ball. Hamilton is not in that half of the field. Also he sees the two short receivers to that side of the field are both well covered. So he moves across the field, continuing to gain depth on the play.

He sees the the running back to that side running a wheel route leaving his man in the dust and completely uncovered. The QB can see this and must believe he has an easy TD as long as he can get the pass to him on target, which the ball is. Hamilton makes this play by running from the hash mark on the opposite side of the field, 16 yards downfield while at the same time traversing the nearly the entire width of the field to intercept a ball at the sideline just before he falls out of bounds. Quite a remarkable play. You will be hard pressed to see another play like it.

This next play is late in the game with the visitors trailing Notre Dame so everyone in the 2nd and 3rd levels of the defense want to gain depth as to close any deep passing windows that might allow their opponents back into the game.

While gaining depth Hamilton is also reading the eyes of the QB who is staring down his receiver. This QB has a rocket arm so he believes he can fit a pass through the tight window. This is where the height and athleticism of Hamilton comes into play. Reading the eyes gets him a jump on the pass. He shows the hands of a receiver to make the INT. This pretty much ends the game for Virginia. It’s a simple zone concept, but Hamilton shows great hands plus leaping ability. I would not be surprised to see near 40” in the vert at the NFL Combine which (at 6’ 4”) would make him look like he is jumping out of the building. For his career he has allowed 1 TD with 8 INTs into his coverage as per PFF.

This last clip is of Hamilton in zone coverage with the defense in a two deep safety look. It’s 3rd and 11,. The two deep look helps guard against the big play but can be susceptible to players catching shorter passes on the move to pick up 1st downs. That’s not what’s happening here as Louisville is running three vertical go routes hoping it takes the defenders with them. They then try to run a 4th player (like he’s running a go route) then have him break off at the sticks for a 1st down. It’s not a bad strategy.

The problem here is that Hamilton is very confident in his skills. He knows he can get up to top speed in just a few steps so he gives ground slowly to the onrushing receiver. Hamilton is also very smart. He knows the down and distance. He is wary and knows exactly where that 1st down line is. The receiver never really threatens Hamilton (gets up to his toes) then doesn’t cut out of a break but rather rounds off the route.

This is a move that is easy to read by Hamilton as soon as the receiver starts his break of the route. Hamilton is able to stick his foot in the turf then explode towards the pass. The QB throws a perfect pass, one that is out in front of the receiver. If this pass was even 6 inches back from the intended receiver it would have probably been an INT. As it is Hamilton makes a diving break up of the play; 4th down.

At the beginning of the season Hamilton’s defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman knew he had a special talent when he walked in the door but wanted to challenge Hamilton to take his game to another level. “We all know he looks different. We all know that he’s performed at great heights. But I’m excited to see him grow. He’s a guy that I’m going to push,” Freeman said. Freeman also wanted Hamilton to take more of a leadership role on the team but Hamilton is more a quiet leader. “I’m just trying to play my game, follow the game plan, be a good teammate, be a good leader and everything will fall into place,” Hamilton said.

His DC was asked about the pro potential plus his future Draft status but Freeman played coy. “If you can play man coverage, you can get your hands on people, you can close space and then you can be physical at the point of attack, you have a chance to be a first-round pick,” Freeman said. “Obviously that’s why Kyle Hamilton has that potential.”

Hamilton hasn’t changed much in his life with all the notoriety, his family would know if any change had happened. “When he’s coming through the tunnel, that’s when he turns into Kyle Hamilton football guy,” said his father, Derrek. “As soon as he walks off the field, he’s back to the person that everyone knows he is.”

His teammates see him as Kyle, the unassuming safety who happens to be a star on their team; his coaches see it too. “He’s more of a quiet worker,” Freeman said. “He’s a humble worker. You can see him. You’ll notice him. Anybody can notice him, because he looks different. The way he works, he doesn’t say much. He goes out and does his job, but he’s always looking to improve.”

Hamilton had a knee injury that ended his season and his Notre Dame career. It was a sad way to leave his school, but the good thing is the injury should not affect his future. The injury is not structural. It’s called “fat pad impingement” around his knee. The fat pads are found at the front of the knee just behind the patellar tendon and kneecap. It can become inflamed if you bang/knock your knee directly (e.g. falling onto your knee). It is most common in active individuals particularly dancers and those that kneel as part of their job (e.g. a carpenter), but can also be an issue with runners and footballers. There are a number of treatments that can be successful. It should not be a chronic condition. Of course I’m sure the NFL doctors will give Kyle a full examination.

Summary

Kyle Hamilton is a high quality prospect who is just beginning to understand all he can do on a football field. He is not a perfect prospect, but he is getting better. His missed tackle rate shrunk considerably this year compared to his past two seasons. His role on defense this year was quite different as well. He played more snaps in the slot (227) than he did in the past two years combined (210) even though he only played in 7 games. He had played 530 snaps as a deep safety but only 114 in 2021.

You must remember he is still a very young man. He doesn’t turn 21 until the middle of March so he has more filling out to do. He is not all that powerful, and you don’t want him taking on blocks from linemen just yet He can be effective guarding slot receivers and tight ends while also playing centerfield as a deep safety.

Bottom line is that the future for Hamilton seems very bright. Hamilton should tear up the NFL scouting combine, and if he does you are looking at a definite top 10 pick or even a top 5 pick. Then you start getting into the Jamal Adams type talk. Is a safety worth a top 5 pick when there are players who might affect the game more? What can a stud offensive lineman do or an edge rusher? Would the edge guy have more of a positive impact on a defense than a slot guy or deep safety? I’m not influencing either way. I’m merely playing Devil’s advocate.

Kyle Hamilton is a smart, super athletic kid who is only 20 years old right now. He had some quiet leadership abilities, and his character is outstanding. He would be a quality choice with a first round pick, but so would some other players. The Jets only have a single top 5 pick. How do you want to use it with all the needs they have?

What would you do?