Editor's Note: The "Eight at No. 8" series is an installment of eight separate stories evaluating eight different prospects the Falcons could take with the No. 8 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. With holes to fill, there are a number of directions Atlanta could go with its first-round pick. Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll take a look at eight players who could fit in the 2022 Falcons roster and beyond.
General manager Terry Fontenot and Falcons' leadership have made it clear that they will not reach for a need in the draft in April -- or for any draft for that matter. They have stuck to three words: best player available.
Last season the Falcons did that in the first round, selecting Kyle Pitts, who did not fill a need, especially Hayden Hurst on the roster, but was a player many believed was the best in the draft and could change a franchise.
As anyone reading this likely knows, Pitts was as good as advertised. He helped keep the Falcons competitive in 2021.
In this year's draft, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton is another player who many consider among the most talented – if not the best – football player in this class. Hamilton was a consensus All-American in 2021 and was a finalist for the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in college football.
Here's the case for Hamilton at No. 8.
We take a look at eight options for Atlanta's first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Why the Falcons should take Hamilton
On sheer talent alone, Hamilton is considered the best player in this draft. There has been concern about his 40-yard-dash time, which was a 4.59 at the NFL Combine. That time was slower than most of the top safeties but not incredibly concerning. However, he reportedly ran in the 4.7's at his pro day, quick for a defensive lineman but not for a potential future superstar safety.
The thing about 40-yard-dashes, though, is they don't always translate to the field. Whatever Hamilton's 40 is, it was good enough for him to track a pass sideline to sideline for one of two interceptions against Florida State in September last season. His speed did not hinder him from being one of the best defensive players in college football, so while a 40 time can be concerning, his game film tells the story.
Future NFL superstars have struggled in the 40-yard-dash before, like Terrell Suggs, who ran an underwhelming 4.84, and the Ravens still selected him tenth overall. Suggs would make seven Pro Bowls and win the NFL's defensive player of the year award in 2011.
At a time when offenses are getting increasingly more dynamic, and safeties are being challenged with being elite in multiple roles on defense, Hamilton has the size and skill to be a game-changer in an NFL secondary.
Counter punch: Why the Falcons should pass on Hamilton
Safeties are not valued as highly as other positions on the field like edge rusher, offensive lineman, and of course, quarterback. Sean Taylor and Eric Berry are the only safeties since 1991 to be drafted in the top five. The last safety drafted in the first round was Darnell Savage by Green Bay in 2019.
That is the challenge with selecting Hamilton. His position is not believed to be one that can change a team's fortunes quickly as others can. Combine those concerns with Hamilton's poor 40-yard-dash performance, and it would make sense for the Falcons to look elsewhere at eight.
Especially if one of the top four edge rushers or top three offensive linemen are available, or even a cornerback like Sauce Gardner.
What are the odds he'd be available?
Hamilton's draft projection has been arguably the most inconsistent of any player in the draft. He has been the first player off the board in some mocks, sliding to the middle-to-late first round of others. Most analysts agree that he is one of the best pure talents in the draft but know that his position, combined with his combine and pro day production, could scare teams away from using a pick in the top seven on him.
The way Hamilton's stock has been trending, he is likely to be available at eight. And while Terry Fontenot has preached the "best player available" approach, that does not mean that Hamilton is the best player on the Falcons board just because many national media believe he is among the most talented players in the draft.