Stop the presses, because we have to completely change up everything that we’ve known about the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into the 2019 season. The data analysis website Pro Football Focus yesterday published its rankings of the projected starting secondary for every team, and they were not too impressed with what the Steelers intend to line up this year.
Projecting a starting lineup of Joe Haden and Steven Nelson on the outside with Mike Hilton in the slot and Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds at safety, the site listed the Steelers’ secondary 28th overall in the NFL. That placed them behind only the San Francisco 49ers, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in descending order.
For the site, Hilton was their area of focus in talking about the Steelers’ secondary. He was the highest-graded player for the team among defensive backs last year, and that includes Nelson, who was with the Chiefs last year. They have already argued that Hilton is worth paying as a top slot cornerback.
It’s easy to forget about him because he plays the slot, but Mike Hilton has quietly been doing a lot of heavy lifting for the Steelers defensively. His 32 coverage stops over the past two seasons are the sixth most in the NFL.
That is actually a number—or rather a ranking—that admittedly caught me a bit by surprise, that Hilton has the sixth-most defensive stops in coverage over the past two years. Coverage stops, of course, will include a player making tackles after a reception that results in an unsuccessful play, though, so that does make sense.
Over the past two years, he has made two tackles for negative yardage after receptions. He has another four tackles on receptions that gained three or fewer yards for unsuccessful plays. Of the 16 tackles that he has made on third down following a completed pass, nine of them have prevented a first down. Overall, he has 67 tackles in the passing game.
While Hilton is an important part of the secondary, of course, the team is counting on significant improvement from the right cornerback position with Nelson being brought in, and from both safety positions, with Edmunds entering his second year and Davis in his second at free safety.
The 28th ranking is, I think, not unreasonable based on what we currently know relative to personnel talent, but I do think that the ranking could improve significantly over the course of the season. I might be in the minority with that opinion, however.