Now that the 2020 regular season has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
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. 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 season as we move forward.
Player: CB Mike Hilton
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: In a positive sign after finishing as a limited participant last week, cornerback Mike Hilton practiced fully yesterday in a game in which the Steelers hope to finally have him back on the field.
The past four games, albeit all ending in wins, have really shown the Steelers the value of Mike Hilton, who remains one of the most versatile nickel defenders in all of football. Not to take anything away from Cameron Sutton, who may be the superior player in coverage, but Hilton’s complete game including stout run defense and a nose for blitzing gives the defense a lot more options from a base nickel look than a defender more tuned toward coverage as the top priority.
Hilton has missed the past four games due to a shoulder injury, by far the longest stretch of time that he has ever missed in his career, though he played through most of the 2018 season while dealing with an injury then, as well, and it did affect his play.
One might be inclined to wonder if the Steelers didn’t have Sutton to fall back on that Hilton would have been rushed back on the field sooner due to a lack of options. Then again, the Steelers did find themselves playing Marcus Allen and Antoine Brooks this past week.
The fact that he was able to practice fully yesterday was a good sign, but remember, he also practiced fully at the start of the practice week prior to last game, before taking a step backward and going limited. If he is able to practice fully again today, that would be the key.
But last week was the first time that he had been able to practice fully at all. He was limited all week the game before that and listed as doubtful. The week prior to that, he did not practice on Wednesday and then went limited the rest of the week.
The week prior to that, he didn’t even step on the field, so there has been progress each and every week. Head coach Mike Tomlin seemed to sound pretty optimistic about the odds of this being the week that they get their nickel back, and I feel it’s for good reason.