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Kyle Hamilton is more of a unicorn than he is a cheetah.

Of all the debates to be had about the top of the NFL draft, the most divisive might be whether Hamilton should become the first safety taken with a top-four pick since 1991. Some NFL talent evaluators say the Notre Dame product is the best overall prospect in the class. Others are worried by his 40-yard dash times. Then there is the group that loves the player but remains married to the unwritten rules of positional value.

“Normally I’d say this is too high for a safety,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr said, “but Hamilton is a unique and special defender.”

One argument against Hamilton should sound familiar because it was mentioned against running back Saquon Barkley (No. 2 pick) and offensive guard Quenton Nelson (No. 6) in 2018, against linebacker Isaiah Simmons (No. 8) in 2020 and against tight end Kyle Pitts (No. 4) in 2021. There is a school of thought that top-five picks are reserved for quarterbacks, offensive tackles, pass-rushers, cornerbacks and wide receivers.

NFL Draft
Kyle Hamilton
Getty Images

Since Eric Turner was the No. 2 pick in 1991, Sean Taylor in 2004 and Eric Berry in 2010 are the highest-drafted safeties (both No. 5). “Unicorn” is a common scouting term for a talent so rare that it requires rethinking the norm. Maybe that label gets Hamilton into the top-five picks.

“I wouldn’t do it when you can get defensive linemen and cornerbacks,” one NFL defensive coach said. “You are going to overpay for a safety with a top-five pick. How many of the top-paid players in the league are safeties?”

Jamal Adams, who was drafted No. 6 in 2017, is the NFL’s highest-paid safety at $17.5 million per year, but 50th highest-paid player. Then again, how many safeties are versatile enough to play in the box against the run, line up in the slot in coverage and play in the post as a ballhawk the way that Hamilton can?

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And yet even a Hall of Fame safety like Brian Dawkins balked at the idea of Hamilton as the No. 1 pick even if he is the No. 1 talent.

“From a draft perspective, from the bias against safeties, why would I use the No. 1 pick when I can probably move down somewhere and still get that same player a couple picks later?” Dawkins said last week at the annual Maxwell Football Club awards ceremony. “To me, as a GM, that’s how you think.”

Hamilton totaled 138 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 24 passes defended and eight interceptions in 31 career games. The unexpected concern that developed in the last seven weeks, however, is that he clocked a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine (second-slowest among safeties) and only shaved it down to an unofficial 4.56 by Notre Dame’s Pro Day.

“I still didn’t do as well as I wanted to,” Hamilton said afterward. “4.47 was probably my goal since training started. I just haven’t gotten back to it.”

Speed certainly wasn’t an issue when Hamilton made one of the highlights of the college football season by running from the far hash marks to the opposite sideline to intercept a pass against Florida State. But that play was before the season-ending pinched fat pad in his knee.

Notre Dame
Kyle Hamilton
AP

“If he had run a 4.50 or faster, I think he would have been a top-five lock, but clubs may be scared to take him that high after running [those times],” one longtime NFL scout said. “The tape tells us how good he is. He’ll be a great NFL safety.”

Kiper slotted Hamilton at No. 2 to the Lions in his latest mock draft. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah projected a slide to the Commanders at No. 11. The Texans (No. 3) count safety among their wealth of needs, and the Jets (No. 4) and Giants (No. 5) have needs after parting with safeties Marcus Maye and Logan Ryan, respectively, this offseason. Hamilton said he had a Zoom call with the Giants.

“People are bringing up Isaiah Simmons and saying he was that unique guy who was a chess piece,” Kiper Jr. said. “But he was a projection in some cases as to what he could do. You were figuring out, ‘Where are we going to use him to be at his best?’ You have to be strong in one area. Kyle Hamilton can do anything you want a safety to do.”

Source: NYPOST

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