In late January, three weeks after the end of one of the worst and most injury-plagued defensive seasons in franchise history, Ravens coach John Harbaugh found a silver lining.
“We’re going to get two first-round-pick corners back,” he said at his end-of-season news conference, referring to Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, “so that’s a good place to start.”
They’re in a far better place now. The Ravens’ patience in last month’s NFL draft netted them another first-round defensive back, safety Kyle Hamilton. They also added edge rusher David Ojabo, who, when healthy, had graded out as a first-round pick, along with defensive tackle Travis Jones, who impressed at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine.
If the Ravens bounce back this season under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, their five rookies could play a big part. Based on data from Sports Info Solutions and Pro Football Focus, as well as schematic considerations, here’s a look at how they might fit in.
S Kyle Hamilton
The Ravens ask their safeties to do a lot, taking them out of their comfort zone so that they can take opponents out of theirs. In Earl Thomas III’s lone season in Baltimore, he was regularly deployed as a deep-lying ballhawk, where he’d starred for the Seahawks, but he also lined up in the box and blitzed more in 2019 than he had over yearslong stretches in Seattle.
So what might someone as versatile as Hamilton do in Baltimore? Whatever Macdonald desires, most likely. Ravens director of player personnel Joe Hortiz called him “a playmaker at multiple different levels of a defense.” Hamilton didn’t allow a completion in 22 coverage snaps when aligned as a linebacker. He allowed just two completions for 33 yards in 67 coverage snaps as a slot defender. And he allowed just four completions for 67 yards in 155 coverage snaps as a deep safety.
Hamilton’s range and processing ability should make him interchangeable with safety Marcus Williams in deep zones. His size (6 feet 4, 220 pounds) will help in coverage against tight ends and bigger wide receivers lined up in the slot. And his tackling ability makes him an asset closer to the line of scrimmage; Harbaugh mentioned Hamilton rushing the passer, and Hortiz said he could line up as a weak-side inside linebacker.
“He can play man coverage,” Hortiz said. “He can play, obviously, the high post and go to the sideline and pick a ball off. He can show up against the run. You can put him in the box. I think with a guy like Kyle … his versatility and what he can bring to a defense, he’s like a chess piece.”
OLB David Ojabo
Even before he tore his Achilles tendon at Michigan’s pro day in March, Ojabo was considered a raw prospect: too talented a pass rusher (11 sacks and five forced fumbles last season) to slip into the second round, but too much of a liability against the run to pencil in as a Day 1 starter. Ojabo’s rehabilitation will still slow his development, but general manager Eric DeCosta said the Ravens expect him “to come back with a vengeance and play outstanding football.”
If Ojabo does return this season, he could be a useful situational pass rusher. In his first season as a starter at Michigan, he led all edge rusher prospects in sack rate (3.8%) and was sixth in adjusted pressure rate. The Ravens’ pass rush struggled throughout last season, but especially in high-leverage situations. They finished with just 12 sacks on third and fourth down, their fewest since 2002, with just two over their final eight games. Ojabo, meanwhile, had nine sacks on third and fourth down in just 14 games.
“He’s a player, this fall, that I saw and thought at some point would be a viable pick for us in the first round,” DeCosta said. “He just really came on this year with tremendous pass-rushing ability, speed, quickness, all the things you want to see.”
DT Travis Jones
With a solid mix of young and old up front — Calais Campbell, Michael Pierce, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington — the Ravens won’t ask Jones to carry a heavy workload. At Connecticut last season, he averaged over 51 defensive snaps per game. In Baltimore, only three players, all defensive backs — safety Chuck Clark and cornerbacks Averett and Humphrey — were on the field for more snaps per game.
The Ravens need more pass-rush juice up the middle, and Jones was maybe the draft’s most disruptive nose tackle there. Over the 584 pass-rush snaps by Ravens players lining up as a zero-technique (over the center), one-technique (over the center’s shoulder) or two-technique (over a guard) lineman last season, the defense recorded just one sack, by Campbell. Jones, meanwhile, had 4 1/2 sacks in 237 such snaps last year.
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“I think the potential is there,” Hortiz said. “Obviously, you see his hands; he can knock guys back with his hands. He’s got a nice, violent swat. The technique will need to be developed, but it’s in there. … At the very minimum, he’s going to be able to knock guys back into the quarterback, which you love.”
CB Jalyn Armour-Davis
Hortiz said the Ravens see starter-level tools in Armour-Davis, who didn’t play regularly until last season. Targeted 38 times in coverage, he had three interceptions and allowed just 21 completions for 248 yards, with no touchdowns. At the combine, he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and showed teams he has the size to handle press coverage (6-0, 197 pounds).
Armour-Davis has been compared to former Ravens cornerback Anthony Averett, a former Alabama standout and fourth-round pick himself who went just one slot higher in the 2018 draft. Like Averett, Armour-Davis projects as primarily an outside cornerback, where he played the bulk of his snaps last season. Humphrey and Peters rarely leave the field on defense, so Armour-Davis’ role this season could depend on the team’s injury situation and his special teams ability.
“You see the upside, you see the talent, and yes, he may have been a little snakebitten in his career [with injuries], but nothing to where we were concerned about it,” Hortiz said.
CB Damarion ‘Pepe’ Williams
Other than punter Jordan Stout, Williams was the lowest-rated pick in the Ravens’ draft class, falling outside the top 250 in the media’s consensus big boards. He doesn’t have exceptional size (5-10, 183 pounds), speed (4.53-second 40) or quickness. At Houston, however, he excelled in coverage against talented passing attacks. He allowed just two catches for 23 yards against Jalen Hurts-led Oklahoma in 2019, two catches for 21 yards against Zach Wilson-led Brigham Young in 2020, one catch for 9 yards against Desmond Ridder-led Cincinnati later that year and no catches against Ridder and the Bearcats last season.
Draft analysts hailed Williams’ leadership skills and competitiveness, which should translate to special teams production in the NFL. But his versatility could make him a valuable reserve in the secondary. Williams floated around the Cougars’ secondary last season, lining up at left cornerback (57 coverage snaps), right cornerback (64), slot cornerback (127) and safety (124), and he joked that he can play linebacker, too.
“I think it’s huge, because it allows you to do a lot in coverage,” Hortiz said of Williams, whom he compared to safety Brandon Stephens. “Truly, he has played every spot in their secondary just this year. So you know you can say, ‘Hey, you know what? We have to bump him back to free safety, because he’s going to know it. He’s going to understand it. He’s a smart football player.’ So the ability and the intelligence are key. I think with both Brandon and Damarion, they are both able, and certainly, they’re very smart.”