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Why the Detroit Lions should draft Kyle Hamilton

He’s the best athlete in this draft and safety is more coveted than ever in the NFL.

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NFL Combine Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Our multi-part series “Why the Detroit Lions should draft...” continues with Part 3 of the installment. During this series, our writers will make the case for several different options for the Lions in the 2022 NFL Draft with Pick No. 2.

Next in our series, Chris Perfett explains why he thinks Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton is worth of the pick.

Previously: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Travon Walker

It is time for the Lions to add a unicorn to their pride.

Since 1991, only three safeties have been selected in the top five of the NFL Draft. Of those, Eric Turner was picked No. 2, while Sean Taylor and Eric Berry were both taken at No. 5. It is rare company that Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton could enter on Thursday, and in spite of all the smokescreens being thrown up by scouts there’s no denial that is worth even considering that Hamilton isn’t a top-five talent.

Hamilton has all the physical attributes that has made him stand out in this year’s draft class, with a 9.33 Relative Athletic Score. His tape from Notre Dame earned him accolades from scouts as a blue-chip prospect. In 31 games for the Irish, he produced eight interceptions, 16 passes defended and 138 tackles (7.5 for loss). He was flexible in his time there, playing outside the box, covering the slot and more.

(There has been some concerns about his combine numbers, but the larger college tape should supersede that. Plus, if you’re still getting hung up about 40-yard times in the Year of Our Lord 2022 then I’d like you to mail me $200. It will go directly towards my “Let Chris retire to be dead drunk in Hokkaido” charity. You’ll do yourself a solid and rid the world of me.)

On the surface, there’s nothing “sexy” or conventional about taking a safety with the No. 2 pick. Conventional wisdom says that such high “positional value” dictates you select an offensive tackle, a quarterback or an edge rusher. Of course, this is bloody nonsense. You used to select running backs that high as well. Conventional wisdom is for dinosaurs, and while the NFL has plenty of them, the Lions need not be among them.

Let’s talk about another cliche that is more apt for this decision: “best player available.” Kyle Hamilton is the best player available. Hands down. We have documented this time and time again with his athletics and his tape through years of play at Notre Dame. He is the best athlete in this draft. If you cannot cleave to this axiom and scamper instead towards edge rushers who are of starter quality but not the best athlete, then you simply don’t follow the axiom. You are caught still in your mind-lies of positional value.

But we need not disparage the safety position so. Ben Solak of the Ringer wrote about Kyle Hamilton and the safety position, and put forth the argument that the safety position’s value is indeed on the rise.

As Arjun Menon wrote for PFF, much of the value created by quality safeties comes from the versatility they provide to the defense. Teams with top-10 safeties call a greater variety of coverages than teams with top-10 cornerbacks or linemen. Defenses become more fluid and less predictable.

It isn’t just that the safeties are good players. It’s that they are force multipliers. A top safety can make an entire defense better. Is this not the same argument used to justify massive contracts for star pass rushers, who can regularly pressure the quarterback and make life easier on the cornerbacks behind them? Or star pass protectors, who can withstand those star pass rushers and generate time for their quarterback to read the defense and for receivers to get open?

As the value of safety rises, it will become increasingly difficult to land elite safeties from free agency. The Lions need not do this. In this phase, they can still set cornerstones of their defense for years to come, and safety is a key piece to that puzzle. The safety position will require more versatile athletes, ones like Hamilton.

Leadership and strength of modern NFL defenses comes up the middle. Interior linemen, mike linebackers and safeties are the wedge that force the pressure to the outside. The Lions have invested well in their interior DL, and could continue to do so, and still desire a strong linebacker corp. While Detroit has signed DeShon Elliott, this remains a short-term, veteran-minimum deal. The opportunity remains to find a true long-term leader. Hamilton, who was a captain at Notre Dame, represents that leadership.

Last year, I recommended the Lions select Penei Sewell as their No. 7 draft selection. The logic then is the same logic as it is here now: it is about flexibility, versatility and leadership. Just as the selection of Sewell has allowed the Lions offense to mold itself however it so wishes based on a strong offensive line, the Lions defense could be just as malleable with Hamilton on roster—he represents strong leadership up the middle, capable and ready lining up at multiple positions and proven Swiss army knife readiness.

I’ve seen plenty of Lions fans argue that it’s better “value” to take another position at No. 2 and then draft Lewis Cine from Georgia at 32 or 34. This is a fallacious position. There is no guarantee you will have Cine available at those picks. It would be incredibly risky to presume this is how the board will fall. It is a gamble of the highest order. It is the sort of take that emerges from brains too addled on mock drafts. The whole reason we have focused so much on the No. 2 position is exactly that the Lions have the driver’s seat after just one team. It allows them to select elite level talent as it exists at the top of the draft and let the board fall from there.

Release your preconceptions, embrace the best player in this draft.