Now that the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: Mike Hilton
Stock Value: Up
Evaluation Type: Minor, Long-Term
Reason: Spring Practice Performance
This is a big year not just for the secondary as a whole, but also for many of the specific members of the secondary. Really, it might be a pretty telling campaign for every single one of their starters, including the recent veteran additions, about their immediate future.
The ‘big year’ cliché applies as much to second-year cornerback Mike Hilton as it does anybody else in that group, and the good news is that early reports have been very much favorable. At least one beat writer earlier this spring, for example, declared that he was the best-looking defensive back on the field during OTAs.
Originally a 2016 undrafted free agent, Hilton spent part of December of that season on the Steelers’ practice squad and was re-signed to a Reserve/Future contract when the team’s season came to an end. He entered training camp as a darkhorse, but quickly emerged.
He started making plays in the preseason, including tackles on special teams, and exhibited the ability to make plays in all three phases on defense, playing well in coverage, makes stops against the run, and bringing effective pressure on blitzes.
He carried that right into the regular season, and finished the year with 15 run stops, two interceptions, and four sacks, while also functioning as one of the Steelers’ primary gunners. It was a promising start, but the team needs him to continue to build on that.
One thing he will have to work on is improving his tackling efficiency by making better adjustments when going after players who are clearly his superior in terms of sheer size, because he did have a good number of missed tackles. He also struggled at times to limit big plays from becoming even bigger by failing to bring a player down.
The good news is that he’s aware of all that and is driven to keep getting better. He knows he could be working at Foot Locker right now, and doesn’t ever want to have to take another job other than football unless he chooses to do so when his playing career is finished.