We know Mike Hilton didn’t have a great year last season. But we also know he spent most of it at far less than 100%, suffering a hyperextended elbow late in the Week 3 win over Tampa Bay. From there, his play suffered and by season’s end, he saw the field a lot less and lost out on some playing time to Cam Sutton.
So let’s remember those precious few healthy weeks. They’re a good reminder for how talented of a slot corner he is and how well-rounded he is in coverage, tackling, and blitzing. Here’s just a couple of his top plays prior to his injury and if you get that same kind of guy in 2019, and there’s every reason to expect so, you’ll have a quality slot corner.
Fantastic job sinking and getting depth in zone coverage that we covered during the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick wants to hit this down the seam but Hilton has vision on the quarterback and makes a diving play to break up the attempt. Not sure it’s complete otherwise, would’ve been a tough catch, but Hilton took that possibility off the table. Good read and athleticism to finish the play.
Let’s stick with the Bucs game. Not a terribly difficult play, I know, and give credit to Jon Bostic for making it happen. Still, the defense recorded an interception which in itself is cause for celebration. Part of the monster first half that produced four takeaways, the high mark of the season.
Jump back to Week One of the regular season. 3rd and 6 early in the game. Hilton man-to-man on Jarvis Landry, one of the top slot receivers in football. Flips his hips as Landry stems inside on the slant and able to drive and break up the throw. Forces the punt. Hilton shows his change of direction ability and fluidity to turn and match the route.
Little out of frame but you see Hilton fly in at the end. Read, react, drive on the football. Finish at the catch point with authority and break the pass up.
Hilton showed off his innate blitzing ability early in the season too. We’ve written about his timing and feel for the snap before. Sure, he’s coming in free but that’s partially by design. Browns throwing a screen so they’re inviting pressure. But because Hilton times up the snap so well, Tyrod Taylor has to rush the throw and the pass to Duke Johnson in the right flat falls incomplete.
Which is good to because the Steelers were bringing the house. Browns had a good playcall. Could’ve been a big gain if this ball is complete.
And one look at his tackling. 3rd down. Good coverage forces the checkdown to David Njoku in the flat. Wasn’t going to go for a first down even if Hilton missed but like the technique, the leg drive, and just the plain want to, going against a dude twice your size and bringing him down in the open field.
Here are Hilton’s stats the first three games: 3 pass deflections, 1 QB hit, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery
Here are those same stats his final 12 games: 5 pass deflections, 4 QB hits, 0 INTs, 1 fumble recovery
Stats that are far too similar given the sample sizes. That just signals how the injury hindered him and why he should be back to his old, usual self provided he stays out of the trainer’s room this year.