The sixth-year veteran out of Ole Miss spent the last four seasons as a starter in the Steelers’ defensive backfield, and it didn’t take long for him to establish himself as one of the premier slot cornerbacks in the game. Hilton comes to the Queen City to replace Mackenzie Alexander, who in his own right, had a solid single season in Cincinnati.
In terms of coverage, Hilton is one of the top slot corners in the NFL. Per PFF, Hilton has graded in the 93rd percentile in slot coverage every season since 2017, his first as a full-time starter. In a division with receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jarvis Landry, having a premier coverage corner manning the slot is extremely valuable. The league seems to just now be catching on to how valuable a great slot corner can be.
Coverage grades for Mike Hilton the last three years:— Andrew Russell (@PFF_AndrewR) March 16, 2021
From the slot last season, Hilton allowed a 59.9 passer rating, 2nd among all DBs (behind only Darnell Savage, 58.0).
A good signing. https://t.co/IB3guHxO2k
Coverage will obviously be the main area of focus, but Hilton can provide much more than that.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Hilton’s game is his ability to get after the passer. That’s right, we now have a cornerback that can get into the backfield and disrupt plays.
With a PFF grade of 81.5 on pass rush attempts, it is clear that Hilton can and will make an impact in that area, when given the opportunity. It is hard to imagine defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo having that ability in the room and not utilizing it on game days .
Most pressures by a defensive back since 2017:— PFF (@PFF) January 21, 2021
1. Jamal Adams: 78
2. Budda Baker: 46
T-3. Mike Hilton: 41
T-3. Malcolm Jenkins: 41 pic.twitter.com/egMStQ5f9Z
Since 2017, Hilton is tied for third among all defensive backs in the NFL at generating pressures in the backfield. With a Bengals defense that finished 26th in total defense last year and was only able to work up 17 sacks in 2020, that new dynamic will be welcomed from the outside edge of the defense.
Be sure to check in to the training camp updates floating around the web over the next few days. Chances are, you’ll hear about Hilton being used in ways you may not expect to hear about from the “third” cornerback on a team.
For a deeper look at Hilton, check out our buddy Ace Boogie’s breakdown of what he brings to the table.
Here’s to hoping this round of former Steelers pests putting on the stripes goes better than the James Harrison experiment of 2013.