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Steelers Film Room: Highlighting how important and dynamic Mike Hilton has become

Mike Hilton is the primary gadget on the Steelers’ defense.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Mike Hilton broke out last season during the preseason, it was a shock to all of us. A guy who had been on two previous practice squads — cut each time — shows up and becomes the starting slot-CB for the season. He wasn’t only a preseason wonder either, but an absolutely key performer on a defense which was ailing after Ryan Shazier went down. After that, he was one of the few bright spots on that post-Shazier defense, and that dynamic ability has only continued into this year.

Hilton is an expert blitzer from the slot, and Keith Butler utilizes the 5’9” stick of dynamite on virtually every blitz he can dial up. He’s also extra aggressive from the slot in coverage. At his core, he’s an aggressive man-coverage corner who can literally match up with anyone. He even forced a pass breakup against Rob Gronkowski last season when the Steelers faced the Patriots. This guy is a top-3 slot-CB in the NFL, and he impacts every aspect of the game. He’s a pain for any Offensive Coordinator to game-plan for. In simple terms, Keith Butler uses him almost as a small LB. He’s undoubtedly a missile, and although he’s known for how effectively he blitzes, his coverage is fantastic too.

Okay, empty set, Steelers are in Cover-2 man. Only Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds are deep on this play with palms coverage, and everyone else is in either in press-man (L.J. Fort, Joe Haden, Morgan Burnett) or off-man coverage (Mike Hilton, Coty Sensabaugh). With the slot guys and Haden pressing the outside receiver, Jarvis Landry is the prime target for Baker Mayfield here, so this all relies on Mike Hilton, and boy does he ever come through.

It may be hard to see up near the top of the screen, but look at how easily he mirrors the zig. His hips are in constant motion with Landry’s route and then the easy, fluid change of direction to come straight down on that play is top-CB stuff. He knows the situation and just comes up and makes a great hit. Even if Landry hangs on, you can see Hilton’s aggressiveness as he rushes downhill after the fast change of direction.

The most underrated part of Hilton’s game is the swagger he brings. He chirps after that play and, to me, that’s the sign of a leader. He gets in Landry’s head, you know he does, and Landry is a guy who likes to do the same back, just ask Artie Burns. I want my DBs to be aggressive and have swagger. I consider it an essential trait, and man does Hilton ever deliver!

The Browns come out in a Todd Haley special, where they have the bunch set on one side and motion it out with a RB (formerly Le’Veon Bell) and make it trips instead, with Duke Johnson here running a slant. Although Anthony Chickillo makes a fantastic play on this ball, I want to focus on Hilton, who is covering Johnson on this play.

Notice once Johnson motions, Hilton immediately steps back one step, expecting Chickillo to come over so he can focus on mirroring. He mirrors that slant and Johnson gets inside leverage, but the change of direction by Hilton likely would have stopped Johnson short of the sticks regardless. The quickness in his hips makes Hilton that much better of a slot-corner. His ability to fluidly change positions and stay with the receiver allows him to react according to the situation.

But blitzes are where Hilton really shines, whether it is on a run or a pass. Just ask Nick Chubb about that.

Perfect play call by Keith Butler here. It’s an inside zone and well, hello Mike Hilton. Tretter and Bitonio clearly double Javon Hargrave up the middle, and even though that’s the call, Bitonio has to call an audible and chip Hilton upfield so Chubb can cut back inside. Regardless, part of the reason Hilton is such a great blitzer is because of his timing. Right when this ball is snapped Hilton is firing down and gets into the backfield. Like I said, he’s used like a smaller LB in this scheme and it’s gorgeous to watch. Just a fantastic play call and great timing by Hilton.

Mike Hilton is fantastic in every facet as a slot-CB. He has blazing speed coupled with amazing reaction time and great coverage skills. That’s something you just don’t see all that often in an undrafted cornerback, much less a guy who was cut twice, including by the Patriots’ evil genius, Bill Belichick.

Hilton will be due money at contract time and he’ll get it from the team residing in the 412 area code. There are many reasons why the Steelers need to lock up Hilton for years to come, but perhaps the main reason is that he gives his all for this team on every single play.

Mike Hilton is worth it.