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Buy Or Sell: Steelers Must Add Slot Defender Depth After Departure Of Mike Hilton

The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.

That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).

The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.

Topic Statement: The Steelers need to add depth to the nickel position.

Explanation: Following Mike Hilton’s departure to join the Cincinnati Bengals, the re-signed Cameron Sutton projects to enter the starting lineup as the slot defender. However, it is not clear who would be the next in line, though Steven Nelson has a multi-year history of starting there in Kansas City.

Buy:

The slot defender position is a very important one, and the deal that Mike Hilton got from the Bengals is a simple reminder of that. Even in a deflated market, he managed to get a four-year deal for his services to the tune of $24 million. He will average more in one season than he has made up to this point in his career.

That’s why the Steelers can’t go into the season without upgrading their options behind Cameron Sutton in the slot. Neither Justin Layne nor James Pierre are capable of moving into the slot. Antoine Brooks is not somebody you want covering anybody man-to-man, even if he makes the roster. While Steven Nelson is an option, you don’t want to move him around—and then you have to trust a Layne or Pierre to come on the field.

Sell:

The Steelers talked about the value of Nelson’s versatility to play inside as soon as they signed him, even though they knew that he would be starting outside. The way the game works, you end up playing all over, anyway. Nelson himself spent several dozen snaps lined up in the slot just last year.

This also would be an ideal opportunity for Sean Davis, who likely could be brought back at or near the minimum, given how little he has done in the past two years. He spent some time playing cornerback in college, and broke into the Steelers lineup as a rookie playing in the slot, so there’s that.

Let’s also not dismiss the possibility of a player like Layne developing inside capability. He has the physical attributes to be able to do it. If it came down to him playing, they would probably stick him outside and move Nelson inside, but expanding his repertoire would make him more valuable as well, which can’t hurt.

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