NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2021. This is the fifth in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
The buzz at the safety position has died down considerably over the past two drafts, but Notre Dame's top prospect has a chance to bring it roaring back. Kyle Hamilton is the kind of freakish athlete that makes NFL coaches salivate, with a vertical of 42 inches, per The Athletic's Bruce Feldman. Hamilton followed up a standout debut season for the Irish with a performance that earned him first-team All-ACC honors in 2020, his first year as a full-time starter.
Watching three of his game tapes from last season, it's easy to see why there's so much excitement about the junior heading into 2021. Here's my initial scouting report:
Height, weight: 6-foot-4, 219 pounds (school measurements).
2020 statistics: 63 tackles (51 solo), 4.5 for loss, one interception, six pass breakups in 11 games.
Game tape watched: vs. Florida State (Oct. 10, 2020), at Boston College (Nov. 14, 2020), at North Carolina (Nov. 27, 2020).
What I liked: Every NFL team is looking for long, rangy, versatile and explosive athletes to add on defense. Hamilton is right out of central casting. He can play as a high safety, a force player in the box or match up one-on-one with tight ends. He has excellent anticipation and takes ideal angles to the ball versus the run and the pass. He is an outstanding open-field tackler, too. He made several wow tackles against North Carolina's talented RB duo last season (before he was ejected for a targeting penalty late in the first half). He doesn't find himself out of position very often, but when it happens, he has big-time recovery speed.
Where he needs to improve: Ideally, you'd like to see more ball production from Hamilton. He picked off four passes in 2019, but pulled in only one interception this past season. He also can get a bit grabby when matched up in man coverage. He doesn't have any trouble mirroring tight ends, but his size worked against him in the few reps he had versus smaller/quicker slot receivers in the tape I studied. I don't view him as a big nickel back candidate like some of the other safeties we've seen enter the league in the past few drafts.
Biggest takeaway: The height/weight/speed combination is impressive, but it's Hamilton's instincts that make him a special talent. You can tell he studies tape. There were two plays in the Boston College game where he made flat-footed reads right after the snap and drove on the football, arriving at the spot before the intended target. That kind of thing doesn't happen unless you've done your homework and trust your eyes/instincts. He is always aware of down/distance and he sniffs out screens in a hurry. NFL defensive coordinators are going to love this guy!
He reminds me of: Justin Simmons. I've been the color analyst for the Los Angeles Chargers' radio broadcasts for the past three seasons, so I've seen a lot of the talented Broncos safety. These two players have games that are very similar. They have length, speed and instincts. They are both dependable tacklers in space and have sideline-to-sideline range. It took a few years, but Simmons is finally getting the respect he deserves as one of the premier players at his position. I see similar upside with Hamilton.
I can't wait to watch him play: vs. USC on Oct. 23. The Trojans always have talented pass catchers and this year is no different. Drake London is one of the top returning wideouts in the country and his size (6-5, 210, per school measurements) presents problems in the red zone. These rival programs didn't meet this past season, and I imagine the energy in the stadium will be electric for this contest. It'll be fun to see how Hamilton responds on that stage.