One of the all-time Ole Miss greats is back in the limelight again. Former Rebel do-it-all defensive back Mike Hilton is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers and yes he is back on his bullshit. In just his first preseason as a professional, the little man from Fayetteville, Ga. has collected eight tackles, one sack, one pass defended and one fumble recovery in just two games for the Steel Curtain. Not bad for a lowly three-star from Sandy Creek High School, huh?
The 5’9, 184-pound cornerback originally signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent but was released two months later. He then got picked up to the New England Patriots’ practice squad a month later, but only lasted a week. That’s when he found his current home, Pittsburgh, when he was signed as a reserve/future contract after making the practice squad and blowing everyone’s mind with his playmaking ability.
You remember his playmaking abilities right, y’all?
Well, our man Mike is back at it again this preseason. In the Steelers matchup with the New York Football Giants, Hilton exploded onto the proverbial scene with a perfectly-executed delayed blitz and sack on Geno Smith that gave me memories of when he would shoot the gap in the Vaught.
But, my guy wasn’t done with just a sack. He was all over the place covering kicks, recovering fumbles and making tackles at the second and third level. Just like he did when he roamed the field in Oxford.
Same ole same ole, right? That same swagger that you can’t teach, same grit and determination despite being 5’9 and a buck 80 and that same devastating tackling technique that he flashed in the SEC for three years. This isn’t just a flash in the pan, feel good Hard Knocks moment here, no. He made ANOTHER fantastic play nine days later against the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.
The skill set and ability to flash on the tape has never been a question. But the size has. For now though, it seems that the Steelers like him enough to put him out there and see what he can do. But, standing just 5’9, Mike will likely be slotted for just one position in the NFL: slot cornerback.
Now, this suits him perfectly, don’t get me wrong. But it makes his margin for error and the Steelers room for him very, very slim. If he wants to make a 53-man roster, slot corner is the recipe for him to do that. He has done plenty already in two preseason games to show that he’e capable of making plays well above his “pay grade” and “weight class”. But all the cheesy metaphors out there aren’t going to help him grow a few inches and be able to flex out into a boundary corner or strong safety.
In an NFL that is constantly evolving and incorporating more and more spread offenses, guys like Mike Hilton are going to become more and more valuable for defenses in order to combat four and five-wide sets and quarterbacks who sling it around the yard 40+ times a game. His skill set combo of instinctive playmaking, quickness in and out of breaks and sure tackling ability is something general managers are hard-pressed to find every year in a draft.
Just more reason for the Pittsburgh front office to relax and take note that they have a guy like that who can make plays not only on third and short coming off the edge, but a dude who can also cover in the flats and down the field in a third and long situation. This all seems like a very simple decision to me. And now, Scout’s Sam Quinn has highlighted Hilton as one of his players that has stood out to him this offseason and mentioned that he could find some playing time in Nickel situations.
If Hilton can survive Pittsburgh’s most recent trade, then maybe he can see this NFL dream come true in 2017 and we can see him do his thing in the black and yellow. SB Nation’s own Behind the Steel Curtain has already mentioned that head coach Mike Tomlin has noticed Hilton and quoted him saying he “deserves to get a look at more playing time with the starters.”
Sounds like a good start to me.