The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Mike Hilton will have the best season of his career to date in 2019.
Explanation: A 2016 college free agent, Hilton first found his way to Pittsburgh late that season on the practice squad. He opened 2017 as the starting slot cornerback and has been there since. He drew high praise as a rookie, but had some more consistency issues last year, in part due to injury.
At least for the time being, pending further developments, Hilton remains a critical part of the team’s defense, playing ahead of others such as Artie Burns, Cameron Sutton, and rookie third-round pick Justin Layne as the Steelers’ nickel defender.
That’s not an accident. While his size is not ideal, he frequently plays beyond what his physical limitations might suggest, as he is a very solid run defender and blitzer. The latter sagged behind his year-one production, but he still made a lot of plays in run support.
The fact that he played most of last season with an arm injury is pretty significant. While the injury itself wasn’t bad, it still had him playing less than 100 percent, so I think you can attribute some of the inconsistencies that he experienced to that.
However, that only applies to some of them. I think the area in which he had the most issues in comparison to the previous year might actually have been in pure coverage, in that he made more mistakes. He also made more plays overall, but it was balanced out by getting beat. He was susceptible to double moves.
One might be inclined to suspect that the league caught up to him a bit from his first season. Surely pretty much nobody had much of a scouting report on him by the time he opened the 2017 season as the Steelers’ starting slot cornerback. Things will have changed since then. And he doesn’t necessarily have, I think, a lot of room for improvement.