The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Senquez Golson in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft with hopes of him being a versatile slot cornerback who can play both the pass and run with equal efficiency.
At that time, Golson’s Ole Miss teammate, Mike Hilton, was preparing for his final year with the Rebels. In 2016, Hilton was an undrafted free agent pick up by the Jacksonville Jaguars, but was cut by the team before the start of the regular season. As a free agent, Hilton then signed with the New England Patriots to be a member of their practice squad, only to be released in September of 2016.
In December of last year, the Steelers came calling and signed him to their practice squad, and an eventual reserve/future contract followed.
Now, back to Golson. During Hilton’s bouncing around the NFL, his former college teammate had yet to play a snap in the NFL. Not even the preseason. Two stints on injured reserve in his first two years eventually resulted in the two friends battling for a spot on the 2017 Steelers roster.
Golson got injured, again, and Hilton did nothing but make plays in the preseason. However, fans have fallen in love with players in the preseason, only to watch those players be signed to the practice squad, or outright released. But there was something about Hilton the coaching staff liked, and he, not Golson, made the team’s 53-man roster.
Some assumed Hilton would just be a special teams player, but for the team’s Week 1 game vs. the Cleveland Browns he was the nickel defensive back in the team’s sub packages.
Week after week, rep after rep, Hilton doesn’t just improve, he continues to make plays on a weekly basis. And no game was bigger for Hilton than the performance he had vs. the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4.
Just look at some of these plays:
Hilton’s stat line vs. Baltimore: 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 pass defense, 1 quarterback hit and 1 interception.
Say what you want about Kevin Colbert and the Steelers for taking Golson in the 2nd round, even though you can’t predict injuries, but credit them for picking up, and sticking with, Hilton at the end of last season and leading into the current regular season.
Suddenly, the Steelers’ secondary with Artie Burns, Joe Haden and Hilton coming off the bench doesn’t have near the level of concern as it did just four weeks ago.
When you step back and think about Hilton’s journey, it truly does seem like a Cinderella story. Undrafted out of college, discarded by two teams, and finally sticks with a team and is making plays.
As for the Steelers, I guarantee they watch film and think to themselves, “Boy are we glad we signed THAT guy.”
In the meantime, the Cinderella story that is Mike Hilton continues for the Pittsburgh Steelers.