Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for 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 move forward.
Player: CB Mike Hilton
Stock Value: Down
Mike Hilton entered this offseason hoping to get a contract extension as a third-year player extended an exclusive rights free agent tender. That didn’t work out for him, and not a whole lot else since then has, either.
Truth be told, at least while lined up in the slot as a cornerback, he did not have a great preseason showing, and the Steelers even introduced a three-safety nickel package in which Kameron Kelly has come on the field to replace him as the nickel defender, alternately lining up in the slot or at free safety (at which time Sean Davis moves down into the slot).
With Davis returning to the lineup today, that means that Kelly will be eligible for that three-safety nickel look that we saw being run fairly extensively in the third preseason game until Davis was injured…by Kelly.
Hilton gave up another touchdown out of the slot last Sunday against the New England Patriots, a play that he has been beaten on what is feeling like several times now over the course of the calendar year. The Oakland Raiders got him on it last year, and the Kansas City Chiefs did it to him in the preseason before Tom Brady did it Sunday. The tape is out on that now.
All in all, it wasn’t a great season debut for Hilton, who according to Pro Football Focus allowed receptions on three of the four times that he was targeted as the primary defender for 64 yards, including the touchdown, with a passer rating of 156.3. Just two points shy of perfect, and I believe you need a minimum of five pass attempts to get that.
While he did generally fine in the other aspects of the game—he had a run stop and a hit on the quarterback on a blitz, for example, and didn’t miss any tackles—the Steelers need him to cover better, especially now that they have more viable alternatives in Kelly, Cameron Sutton, and even Artie Burns allowing them to move Steven Nelson into the slot.