Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is Las Vegas’ overwhelming favorite to win NFL Most Valuable Player honors.

The Ravens’ defensive MVP race, though, is harder to handicap. Four defenders made the Pro Bowl on Wednesday, but none are in the running for end-of-season awards. And in coordinator Mike Macdonald’s smothering defense, everyone has at least one role to play.

With the regular season wrapping up Saturday, Baltimore Banner columnist Kyle Goon and Ravens reporters Jonas Shaffer and Giana Han went to bat for three leading candidates: safety Kyle Hamilton, inside linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive lineman Justin Madubuike.

Kyle Hamilton

Goon: The simplest explanation might be the best argument for Hamilton as the Ravens’ defensive MVP. Watching him is a spiritual experience. The goosebumps you feel while reviewing his highlights make the case.

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There’s no Ravens defender for whom it is easier to list game-breaking plays off the top of your head. Three sacks against the the Indianapolis Colts. His pick-six against the Cleveland Browns. The play against the San Francisco 49ers when he rushed the passer, was literally pinned to the ground by an offensive lineman, then scrambled to get back in coverage to intercept a tipped pass.

Kyle Hamilton makes you feel things. He is relentless, and plays with a blatant disregard for whatever the opposing offensive coordinator drew up that week.

We have the numbers, too. Hamilton is Pro Football Focus’ sixth-highest-graded safety, with the second-highest coverage grade and the third-highest pass-rushing grade. According to Pro Football Reference, opposing passers have averaged just 2.6 yards per target against Hamilton, by far the best of the Ravens’ regular DBs. He’s the Ravens’ third-leading tackler (81) and second in interceptions (four). Behind only Madubuike, he has 10 tackles for a loss — a testament, in part, to his uncanny ability to sniff out (and snuff out) a screen. According to TruMedia, the Ravens are first in yards per play allowed and second in defensive success rate when Hamilton is on the field. Without him, Baltimore drops off to 28th in yards per play allowed and 30th in success rate.

Jonas wrote the definitive profile of Hamilton and his ability to do … well, just about anything. That versatility — thanks to his 6-foot-4 frame and high-end athleticism — translates to multiple roles on the football field: as a nickel back keeping step with nimble slot receivers, as a safety playing center field, as a dynamic pass rusher or covering big-bodied tight ends.

The beauty of Hamilton is that he can be whatever the Ravens need him to be that week, whether exploiting some specific vulnerability or putting a cap on one of the top opposing threats. He represents the upside and shape-shifting ability of the defense as a whole, and when he’s at his best, he’s an absolute force — and so are the Ravens.

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Roquan Smith

Shaffer: A lot of Smith’s contributions are quantifiable. He leads the Ravens and is fifth in the NFL in tackles (158), including five for a loss. He has a team-high 24 run stops, according to Pro Football Focus, tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense. He has a forced fumble, an interception and eight passes defensed. And he’s played over 97% of the defense’s snaps this season.

But so much of Smith’s value to the Ravens’ defense defies easy categorization. He’s the signal-caller for the NFL’s most chameleonic unit, responsible for sorting out formation shifts and pre-snap motions. He’s the hardest hitter on a defense that plays, as running mate Patrick Queen put it, “a brand of football that people don’t want to play.” And he’s a cleareyed, outspoken locker room leader who’s brought “a different type of energy, a different type of leadership” to Baltimore, safety Geno Stone said.

“He sets the tone,” coach John Harbaugh said of Smith after a Week 4 win over the Cleveland Browns. “The thing I love about Ro is, he’s Ro. He’s himself. He’s the best version of himself. He’s honest. He’s straightforward. He’s a man of character and he’s a leader and he backs it up. And that’s what he did, and all the guys had his back, and as a coach, you’re going to be proud of that.”

Smith’s arrival in a midseason trade last year has transformed the Ravens’ defense. Over the past 25 games, according to TruMedia, the Ravens rank tied for first in yards per play allowed, first in expected points added per drive, second in EPA per play, fifth in explosive-play rate and sixth in success rate.

Justin Madubuike

Han: One game separated Madubuike from history. He recorded at least half a sack in 11 consecutive games, tying defensive linemen Jared Allen, Chris Jones, Trey Hendrickson and Shaun Ellis for the longest streak in NFL history. It came to an end against the San Francisco 49ers, only for Madubuike to record another sack in the following game, Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins.

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While his streak was reset, Madubuike still owns the league lead for sacks (13) among defensive linemen this season. He is the first Raven to have more than 12 sacks in a season since legendary outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Recent data suggests a team’s ability to get to the quarterback is critical to success as the league becomes more pass-heavy. A Washington Post article from 2017, when the league’s trend of relying on passing offenses was accelerating, found that if a quarterback was sacked, the offense only got another set of downs one out of six times. Back then, each sack saved the defending team 1.75 points. A sack on fourth down could save almost three points, while a sack on first down saved 1.65 points.

Madubuike has affected the game in more ways than just taking down the quarterback, though. He has 41 tackles in addition to his 13 sacks for a total of 54 this season. He has a PFF grade of 75.1, with high marks for his run defense and higher marks for his pass rush. He has 21 run stops, 32 quarterback hurries and 62 quarterback pressures.

But for as impressive as Madubuike’s season has been on an individual level, what could make him the defensive MVP is how he’s contributed to the overall defensive success. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald runs a complicated defense, and it wouldn’t work nearly as well without Madubuike’s success up front.

“A lot of times those guys [pass rushers] are taking the double teams and pushing the pocket, and that allows for other guys to have single blocks,” Macdonald said in October. “That’s what makes the whole thing go, as well as matching the route, so the timing is right.”

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In Week 9, Smith talked about how “Beeks” makes life easier for him at inside linebacker. Madubuike’s explosiveness and consistency allow those on the line to do their thing, knowing he will be where he should be. With offensive lines starting to double-team him, opportunities open up for others.

His work trickles down all the way to the secondary. The defensive backs don’t have to cover for nearly as long, since Madubuike cuts quarterbacks’ time in the pocket down. With his pressure, quarterbacks can’t always get to the throw they like, making the pass easier to defend. He’s even dropped into coverage himself as part of this defense’s trickery.

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