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Analysis: Damar Hamlin developing into solid starting safety

“Next man up” is the mantra in the defensive backfield this season

Green Bay Packers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

In recent years, the Buffalo Bills have had remarkable health among their roster. That ain’t the case in the 2022 defensive backfield. Between cornerback Tre’Davious White’s absence, safety Micah Hyde going to Injured Reserve, safety Jordan Poyer bouncing back-and-forth in the lineup, and more, it’s been a bit of a mess. That hasn’t stopped the Bills from stacking wins, as the next man up usually seems to be someone who is pretty good at this whole “football thing.” Let’s take a look at one of those next men up: safety Damar Hamlin.

Play 1

We’re about to set a trend with our first play. Specifically that, for Hamlin, it can be very difficult to separate personal results from team results. More specifically, the Bills schemed things up well enough where Hamlin didn’t have a ton of opportunities to display any heroic individual efforts. This play is a great illustration. Hamlin does a great job of play recognition. It’s looking like he used very good tackling form, and he certainly wasn’t shy about making contact. He has a clear lane to blow up thanks to his teammates, and therefore doesn’t have the chance to show off whether or not he can knife through a smaller gap or overpower at the line. Put differently, his team allows Hamlin to demonstrate “good,” but doesn’t provide him a chance to prove “great.”

Play 2

It looks like Hamlin is matched up one-on-one, and starts to crash toward his opponent. But on the other hand, there’s a slight hesitation, which suggests maybe he’s reading the play to react a little bit. Without defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier answering my phone calls, I can’t say for sure exactly what he was told to do on this play. That said, Hamlin’s slight hesitation isn’t a major issue, as he still arrives right after the ball. The tackling is sound, and there’s no room to turn and get YAC for the Green Bay Packers.

Play 3

Hamlin is lined up in a more prototypical safety look here, providing support over the top. As a quick note, Buffalo trusted Hamlin enough to mix it up with Cover 2 (like here) and Cover 1 looks (single safety deep), and rotated between which safety was the deep man. On this play, Hamlin shades backwards waiting for the play to develop. Once it does, he breaks toward the ball. Hint: He’s not the only one. This is one reason Buffalo’s pass defense has been good for years now.

Play 4

Buffalo is trying to prevent a first down. The line to gain is marked for convenience. Green Bay dials up a running play looking to make something positive, and it fools pretty much no one. Hamlin closes a lot of distance to make sure the play is ended.

Play 5

It wasn’t all perfect for Hamlin. I’m not sure what he thinks is developing, but Hamlin starts drifting toward his right where the Bills have a huge numbers advantage already. It allows a free man, and the Bills were lucky this hit the turf.

In Summary

You’ve likely heard the term “system QB” before, which is something I don’t like as it appears as an insult. If you have an effective system and the guy can run it, that’s a good thing. Hamlin might be a system safety but, at bare minimum, it’s a really good system. I’ll further add that it’s such a good system, it provides less chances to show off individual achievement in the backfield. It’s possible Hamlin is developing into a bit more than a system player. Either way, the floor is nice.