Former Pitt safety Damar Hamlin was selected by the Buffalo Bills with the 212th pick in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL draft on Saturday. The late selection defied the expectations of ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, who listed the McKees Rocks native as the best prospect still available from around 2 p.m. until his selection by the AFC East team just before 5 p.m.
The 6’1”, 195-pound safety was the fifth former Pitt player selected in the draft, as Panthers defensive lineman Patrick Jones II, Jaylen Twyman and Rashad Weaver all went before him, as did Panthers cornerback Jason Pinnock. Jones was the first off the board, as he went to the Minnesota Vikings with the 90th overall pick in the third round, and Pinnock was the first Pitt defensive back selected, going to the division-rival New York Jets with the 175th pick in the fifth round of the draft.
Hamlin spent five years at Pitt and served as a starter in 36 of his team's 38 games during his last three seasons. Along with fellow safety and Pittsburgh-area native Paris Ford, he formed one half of a skilled safety duo that was once the centerpiece of Pat Narduzzi’s defense but was eventually overshadowed by the suddenly dominant defensive line.
Still, with Hamlin patrolling the defensive backfield, the Panthers were in good hands, as he led the team with seven pass breakups and 67 tackles and ranked third on the team in interceptions in 2020, with two. In 2019, he ranked second on the team in tackles, with 84, and third in pass breakups, with 10. And in 2018, Hamlin’s first year as a regular starter, he tied for the team lead with two picks.
In Buffalo, Hamlin will be reunited with former Pitt cornerback Dane Jackson, who was selected by the Bills in the seventh round of the 2020 draft and played in five games last season. The team has been a popular landing spot for former Pitt defensive backs of the Narduzzi era, as Ryan Lewis and Lafayette Pitts also played for the western New York team. And given the long look Jackson and others have gotten from the Bills, Hamlin should be able to turn some heads in Buffalo as well.