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The emergence of Mike Hilton is something no Steelers fans expected heading into 2017

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The Pittsburgh Steelers needed a slot cornerback, and it showed up in the form of Mike Hilton.

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Hilton has burst onto the scene for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and this is a fact no fan of the black-and-gold can say they saw coming.

I mean no one.

Hilton has been having a tremendous season in 2017, but when you have to think about all that has occurred for him to just get an opportunity at the 53-man roster, it is something to behold. On top of that, for all of those factors to go his way and for him to step up and take advantage of his opportunities? We are talking a one-in-a-million shot.

In the 2015 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Senquez Golson in the 2nd round out of Ole Miss. Golson, although small for an NFL cornerback, Golson was known for his ball skills, tenacity on the field and overall playmaking ability. The only factor which was never discussed was his inability to stay on the field.

Heading into 2017, and Golson officially missing the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons due to injury, the team picked up one of Golson’s former teammates at Ole Miss, Mike Hilton, for a tryout. This was a low-risk move for the Steelers, and with little expectations, the team drafted Cameron Sutton to help fill the need at slot cornerback if Golson failed to stay healthy again.

Hilton showed up to work, played his butt off, outworked his peers, and had a series of events ultimately change his life.

  • Golson gets injured, again, and is released from the team.
  • Sutton also gets injured, and is placed on injured reserve.
  • Throughout the preseason, Hilton makes play after play, showing his playmaking abilities.

At the end of the preseason, there is no way the Steelers couldn’t keep Hilton on the 53-man roster. They did, and suddenly Hilton was coming off the bench before veteran William Gay.

Yes, Hilton has found his new home on the Steelers’ roster as the team’s nickel defensive back, or first cornerback on the field in sub packages. Throughout the season Hilton has played in all 11 games, tallied 46 combined tackles, 2 pass defenses, 2 interceptions, 5 tackles for a loss and one sack.

Not too shabby for a part-time player.

His play in run support, and blitzing off the edge, has been remarkable. Take a look at what Pro Football Focus had to say about Hilton after the team’s Week 12 game vs. the Packers.

CB MIKE HILTON, 95.4 RUN-DEFENSE GRADE

Hilton was excellent against the run. He had three runs stops on the night, two for no gain and one for a loss. However, he did not grade as well in coverage, as his overpersual on Jamaal Williams’ screen helped spring it for a touchdown, and allowed a first down on the only pass completed into his coverage.

This illustrates Hilton’s season in a proverbial nut shell. Tremendous in some areas, while still needing work in others. However, Hilton was exactly what the Steelers needed heading into 2017.

Some might say he is filling the role which was thought to be filled by Senquez Golson, just as an undrafted player. If you think about where this team would be without Hilton after the injuries to Golson and Sutton, they would be in one heck of a bind.

Hilton has been a pleasant surprise for the Steelers, and their fan base, and the hope is as he gets more experience, the big plays will continue to come for No. 31.