There’s no way of getting around the fact that NFL rosters are cyclical in nature. Every year at a minimum, hundreds upon hundreds of new players enter the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve and other non-active lists.
With hundreds of players drafted every year and just as many if not more coming in as undrafted free agents, it’s inevitable that some of the 2000-plus players with NFL contracts from the season before are going to lose their spots. Some teams see far more turnover than others on a regular basis.
As we get close to the draft, I want to do some risk assessment for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster based on their current needs and how they have handled them in free agency, compared to how they typically go about handling their business in the draft.
Asset: CB Mike Hilton
Roster Vulnerability: Low/Nil
Role Vulnerability: Medium
The Steelers have sent some mixed messages regarding how they feel about Mike Hilton, especially with regards to his long-term viability in his role as their starting nickelback. While he impressed during his first season in 2017 with his complete game, it didn’t seem as though he did any one thing in 2018 as well as he had the year before.
An exclusive rights free agent, he is hoping to earn himself a new contract instead, but as surprising as that would be to happen, it would be downright shocking if it were to happen before the draft. Because let’s face it, there’s a reasonable chance that they draft somebody who will take over his role, if not this year, then soon after.
The team is even apparently looking at somebody like Byron Murphy as a possibility, and let me tell you, if they draft a cornerback that early, he is going to be playing. They know that cornerback is still one of their less reinforced positions on the roster even after bringing in Steven Nelson, and they didn’t draft one last year at all, so it would be surprising if they ignored it altogether. It’s quite possible that they select a cornerback in the top three rounds with their four draft picks.
That said, even assuming that they do manage to draft somebody and that somebody displays the ability to take over the nickel position, Hilton is still not going anywhere. He is still capable of being a core special teams player and would be very valuable as a sub-package piece and the backup slot defender. He could also back up at safety, something that was discussed last season.
Still, my ultimately takeaway is that his role is left somewhat vulnerable with the prospect of the draft looming. Maybe not at the start of the season for a rookie, but perhaps as the year progresses, and he would certainly have a battle on his hands in 2020.