Call Mike Hilton a little bias considering the position he plays but he believes slot corners are becoming more and more important to the NFL. Hilton was the guest of a Steelers’ Nation Unite fan Q&A session and was asked if he thought the role of a slot corner is more important today than ever before.
“I feel like the slot has become a mainstay in any defense in the league,” Hilton responded. “I feel like it’s become one of the more important positions on defense. Because you need a guy that’s able to take away slot receivers and also be in the run game and make plays in the backfield. So I feel like that’s lot of this year is becoming one of the more important positions in the league.”
Hilton’s not wrong in that assessment. You’ve probably heard the saying by now. Sub-package is the new “base” defense. Pittsburgh runs more sub-package than they do base by a considerable margin. As we noted in our 2019 defensive charting, over the past five seasons, the Steelers are in sub-packages (nickel or dime) 68% of the time while they’re in base just 31.4% of defensive snaps. That means plenty of snaps for slot corners, effectively making them starters.
And unlike starting outside corners, slot corners have a heavy presence in the run game (though Joe Haden and Steven Nelson stop the run as well as any corner, to be fair). Hilton is involved in the run fits and has become one of the game’s most physical, run-stopping corners. Since 2017, he’s racked up 22 tackles for loss. That number is by far the best by any corner in football. Here’s the top five.
1. Mike Hilton – 22
2. Desmond King – 14
3. Kareem Jackson – 13
T-4. TJ Carrie – 10
T-4. Kenny Moore – 10
T-4: Logan Ryan – 10
Hilton’s comfortably in first place, eight TFL ahead of second place King. That doesn’t even take into account his blitzing, netting some of the highest sack and pressure numbers from the slot, too.
Now, he’ll have to hope to get paid like a starting corner too. Hilton’s a free agent after the season, poised for a big payday after beginning his career as a UDFA under team control year-after-year. He saw a sizable salary boost this season as a second round tendered RFA, netting him over $3 million, but his price tag should easily double if he continues his strong play this season.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, he’s likely out of the team’s price range. A more reasonable option for them is to bring back Cam Sutton, who should come at a much cheaper rate as Hilton’s backup and defensive Swiss Army Knife since getting drafted.