Ravens, Bengals Counting On 2nd-Year Safeties To Step Up After Losing Starters

Almost everybody in the AFC North has already been impacted by free agency—pending deals becoming official as early as today. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, are expected to lose Cameron Sutton at cornerback, but reportedly will replace him with Patrick Peterson.

Both the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals have lost notable free agents as well. The Ravens lost starting guard Ben Powers. The Bengals lost both of their starting safeties. Likewise, the Ravens parted ways, via trade, with starting safety Chuck Clark for the purpose of creating cap relief.

Now both the Ravens and Bengals must turn to their first-round draft picks from a year ago. The Ravens spent a first-round pick on Kyle Hamilton, while the Bengals selected Dax Hill near the end of the first round. They spent their rookie seasons as reserves, but now it’s time for them to step up.

Hill played just 131 defensive snaps for the Bengals last season, making one true start in 15 games. He only logged double-digit snaps twice, otherwise being used in specialized sub-packages after being drafted as the 31st-overall pick out of Michigan.

With Cincinnati losing both Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, their two starting safeties in recent years, via free agency, Hill will have to occupy one of their jobs. He is capable of playing either strong or free safety, but my guess would be free safety. The Bengals will need to add another safety to start alongside him—someone on a seven-figure salary, not eight.

As for the Ravens, they jumped at the chance of drafting Hamilton when he was still on the board at 14, even though they had bigger needs at the time. The Notre Dame product played as a rookie, over 500 defensive snaps, but he played a variety of roles, not just at safety.

Baltimore added Marcus Williams on a big-money deal in free agency a year ago, so there’s no question about who Hamilton will be paired with. This was always the expectation when he was drafted—which nobody understood better than Clark.

A veteran starter, Clark asked to be traded after Baltimore drafted Hamilton. They refused, but Clark ended up playing every snap of the season for the Ravens. Now he’ll be suit up for the New York Jets as his former team begins the Hamilton era, seeing what sort of dynamic play he can offer.

The Steelers already have their dynamic safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick, as most readers will surely know. And he shouldn’t be going anywhere in the near future, just as Troy Polamalu never went anywhere. Cincinnati and Baltimore are just hoping to get a taste of that.

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