Film Room: Mike Hilton Continues Solid First Season

I think almost everybody’s favorite player on the Pittsburgh Steelers at this point is Roosevelt Nix. But for the rest, their favorite seems to be Mike Hilton, their first-year starter at nickel back, a former undrafted free agent whom they originally signed to the practice squad at the end of the regular season in 2016.

A former teammate of—well, I’ve been asked in the past not to bring up his name in connection with Hilton, so let’s just get right into the tape instead. Here we go.

On the third play of the game, the Bengals sent a wide receiver in motion to the opposite side of the field, flipping coverages. Hilton stayed in to play the run, getting inside the block attempt of the remaining receiver from that side, but was just out of reach of making the play.

Later on the same drive, he continued to show quick read-and-react skills, as he did a week ago, this time blowing up a screen to Giovani Bernard. He never caught the ball, but it would have been better if he had, as Hilton would have dropped him for a loss of five or six.

He finished off the drive on the next play, coming off his route as the quarterback flushed to his right, Tyler Kroft coming on a crossing route over the middle. He saw this and broke on it, making the initial hit, Ryan Shazier cleaning up, to force a punt.

On a later drive, the Bengals were in a third and five approaching the red zone. They stacked the receivers to the right side after motioning, and were able to get A.J. Green on Hilton down the field, with better than half a foot’s height advantage. Andy Dalton was able to hit him on the corner route for 15.

About midway through the second, Cincinnat looking to score, Hilton blitzed off the edge, running past the running back to pressure Dalton, inducing a throwaway on second down.

On the next play, they again motioned into a stacked formation to the left, Brandon LaFell in the slot. Dalton hit him on an out route, but Hilton was able to close in time to force him out of bounds down to the one.

There hasn’t been a lot to knock Hilton for so far this year. He may be the most consistent performer in the secondary at the moment. But it’s still early, of course, just seven games into his career.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Grant Humphrey

    He’s an ERFA after the season right?

  • Scunge

    I think what I love about him is that he does all three things well whereas most of the time your slot CB is lucky to do one thing well, just pass coverage.

    With him he can play the run and punches above his weight so to speak. Strong against the run.

    Then he can play in coverage and we have seen him make plays in knocking the ball away from the defender, and also has the hands to make an INT.

    Lastly, his ability to blitz off the edge and bring consistent pressure, forcing early passes, some of those instances saved potential TDs.

    Show me another slot CB in the NFL that has such a well rounded game. And yes, this is just his first 7 games of his first season as a Steeler but man, how exciting to have a player like this moving forward? If Haden is kept we could very well have Burns/Haden/Hilton as a unit for the next 3-4 years, and hopefully Sutton/Allen develop behind that trio, just a great situation and climate. To think we went such a long dry spell with our CBs and now this 2017 season it is like Christmas. Just so many shiny new toys in the secondary.

  • Justin Warrenfeltz

    There’s a lot to be excited about with the young contributors in our secondary. Hilton, Burns, and Davis have all shown at least flashes of strong talent. Hopefully Sutton and Allen can come into the fold at some point this season or next and be what we drafted them to be. Add another safety to take over for Mitchell when he’s outlived his usefulness, and we have a good core ready to do some damage.

  • Rick Lenzi

    That first picture is a classic tackle, should be used as this is the way it is supposed to be done

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Hilton is one of the players in my ‘bounce’ list. You know how each week a fan has to endure seeing their team either lose players to injury, or lose to a team they should have beaten, or get screwed by the refs on a big call.

    The offset to this for fans, or at least for me, is the ability to get genuinely excited about what a newer player brings to the team – it adds a little bounce back into your step. Here’s my personal list for this season so far:

    (The now back to this status) S. Davis
    J. Haden (go gators)
    Can’t leave Nix off

  • Sam Clonch

    Until the end of his third season actually. His time on the practice squad doesn’t count towards accrued seasons, so he won’t graduate to a RFA until after the 2019 season.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Man, he’s been good! No complaints here!

  • WB Tarleton

    The second clip (attempted screen) is amazing. He diagnosed it so quickly that I can only assume film study was the key and he remembered the look. Within a step, he was already off his guy and breaking to Geo.

    As Matthew said, it is early in his career. However, we still need to remember guys like Hilton, Nix, Villy, etc. when the topic comes around to Colbert/Tomlin draft “busts.”

  • steeltown

    His read and react is amazing

  • pcantidote

    He just has intangibles that you can’t teach: Cat like quickness, nose for the ball, elusiveness. These were things we saw in the preseason but never know if they will translate. Clearly they have, and they are things that put a premium on scouting because they will never register at a combine.

    The combination of Hilton, Shazier, and maybe Dupree give us incredible quickness to keep making the splash plays that win games. We haven’t had that since Troy was in his prime.

  • charles

    Steeler’s Malcolm Butler.

  • PapaJuju

    Never have I been so glad the Jaguar defense was stacked with talent in the secondary. Also, thank you to the Patriots.

  • Orlysteel

    Pro Bowler.

  • will

    What did the Steelers draft Sutton and Allen to be?

  • will

    Still lookin’ for Dupree to produce…

  • Justin Warrenfeltz

    I just meant that they haven’t played yet, and obviously the Steelers drafted them to play.

  • Grant Humphrey

    So he’s under team control for awhile then, interested to see what he can develop into in these next 2 years.

  • PA2AK_

    Was just thinking the same thing. They did earn some of those labels for sure. In most recent history though think about all the 1st and 2nd rd picks alone…then guys like Hilton or Haden and how most of these moves seem to be panning out right now. Colbert/Tomlin definitely deserve some credit here.

  • will

    Ok …makes sense

  • MC

    Most improved player in the NFL.
    Love not only his reaction time and diagnosis of plays but his will to stick his nose in there. I really couldn’t imagine seeing Golson contribute this much if he was healthy this year.
    That Gio hit I had to replay a few times I loved it so much.

  • Brenton deed

    People bang on about the busts but there have been few prime pick busts. J Jones, M Adams, Golson.

    From the 4th round onwards it is a bonus if they become more than serviceable backups according to stats.

    This perception of busts seems to have grown out of the mid round failures at DB. The team was spending prime picks on the front seven, the OL and Bell. Then they seemed to be able to get mid/late round WR picks right.

    I suspect an analysis of the Steelers’ draft performance in the Tomlin era will show they’re well above average – why else are they generally contending?

    The 2007 draft was a disaster for virtually all the teams and considered a weak crop but it also came at a bad time for the Steelers’ then current roster’s life cycle.

    The 2012 draft was a disappointment (luck played a role) but the talent evaluation was considered very good by professional draftniks at the time.

  • jtr

    Does anyone have any idea what he’s keying on that play? He’s driving on Bernard before any of the offensive linemen have let their defenders through, which is usually the hallmark of a screen. I’m not sure what he could be seeing to make him know that Bernard isn’t just leaking out as an eventual safety valve. Maybe a lackadaisical route from the slot receiver?