When Kyle Hamilton visited the Ravens a few weeks ago, coach John Harbaugh asked the top-rated safety prospect a simple question: “What are you doing here?”
He was delighted to meet a composed young man who made two All-America teams at Notre Dame, the same university Harbaugh’s daughter attends. He just never thought the Ravens would have a chance to draft the 6-foot-4, 220-pound defensive back, who covers the field like a gazelle and hits like a bison.
“It was just fun, because I just didn’t think this chance was really going to happen,” Harbaugh said, laughing as he sat between the Ravens’ newest first-round picks, Hamilton and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum. “And then here we sit, because you know, we make our plans and then God laughs.”
After a chaotic first night of the draft that featured two trades, one of which landed the Ravens a second first-round pick in exchange for No. 1 wide receiver Marquise Brown, Friday afternoon was a time to meet and celebrate the fruits of that roller coaster evening.
Harbaugh could hardly contain his glee as he described the multitude of ways the Ravens will use Hamilton and gushed about the way Linderbaum sustains blocks. Both players attended the introductory news conference with their families and girlfriends, and both said they landed in the right place after a tense wait on Thursday night.
“I was just talking to coach earlier about how we’ll look back 10 years later and realize it was the perfect fit and everything happened for the right reasons,” Hamilton said.
The picks generally drew morning-after kudos from draft analysts, who saw Hamilton and Linderbaum as easily the top prospects at their positions and excellent values where the Ravens selected them. Both new Ravens come from long athletic pedigrees.
Hamilton’s father, Derrek, starred as a 6-foot-7 forward at Southern Miss and was a third-round pick of the New Jersey Nets in the 1988 NBA draft. His mother, Jackie, was born in South Korea. Hamilton was born in Crete and lived in Russia as a young child while his dad pursued a professional career overseas. His brother, Tyler, played basketball at Penn and William & Mary, and his cousin, Antonio Lang, played on Duke’s back-to-back national title winners in the early 1990s.
“I think it helped a lot,” he said of growing up in a family full of high-level athletes. “Just from a young age, seeing professional athletes, just the way they work and how diligent and focused they were and detailed, I became accustomed to it and it just felt normal to me throughout middle and high school. That’s honestly how I learned to work.”
After he made his way from the prep fields of Atlanta to Notre Dame, he drew praise for his maturity and leadership skills, becoming team captain his junior year even as he proved to be a turnover-causing machine on the field.
Harbaugh said Hamilton will be a “very multi-purpose-type player” with the Ravens as he slots in beside incumbent starter Chuck Clark and free-agent prize Marcus Williams, one of the best coverage safeties in football.
“You can play deep, have him play deep in the middle,” he said. “He can come down and play dime. He can play nickel. He plays his man coverage. He plays zone coverage, and he tackles people. He blitzes.”
He promised to get Hamilton, who would look like an outside linebacker with another 20 pounds on his frame, his first career sack.
Linderbaum was an all-around athlete growing up in Solon, Iowa. He played at the same high school where his grandfather coached and his father starred as a baseball player. Though he knew his future lay in football, he earned four varsity letters as a first baseman and pitcher, threw the discus and shot put for the track team and finished third in the state tournament as a heavyweight wrestler.
“I’m a competitive person, and I think doing all those sports helped develop that,” he said. “I think the more sports you did in high school, the better all-around athlete you’re going to be.”
Linderbaum comes from an offensive line factory at Iowa and said he has spent time around one of the greatest products of that assembly line, former Ravens All-Pro Marshal Yanda.
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“Just seeing his work ethic, as a young guy, that’s who you want to be like,” he said.
Yanda, in turn, heaped praise on Linderbaum during a visit to the Ravens facility. “We didn’t have to call him,” Harbaugh said. “Because when he visited, he was volunteering information and he couldn’t talk enough about by this guy.”
In the run-up to the draft, some evaluators questioned whether the 6-foot-2, 296-pound Linderbaum would fit the Ravens’ blocking scheme, which does not rely heavily on zone concepts that would showcase his rare mobility. Harbaugh downplayed such concerns, suggesting that Linderbaum’s athleticism and tenacity would translate to any system.
“He’s not just an athletic center, he’s a physical center,” he said. “So when you get the gaps, the gap-scheme back blocks that you’re talking about, he holds up and he’s moving people on those blocks. So we’re confident he can do any kind of block we need.”
He called Linderbaum the best college center the Ravens have watched on tape in “many, many years.”
Already, Linderbaum understands his chief mission: keep defenders away from quarterback Lamar Jackson as he weaves his magic in the backfield.
“I mean, my job’s to protect him,” he said. “I’m going to bring it just to protect him and keep him safe.”