One of the toughest assignments in the NFL is taking down Tennessee Titans’ running back Derrick Henry. He is 6-foot-3, almost 250 pounds. That makes him especially scary when he gets a head of steam.
How do you stop that? You have your tough nickel corner stop him before he gets going.
When the Cincinnati Bengals acquired corner back Mike Hilton prior to the 2021 season, it was for him to be able to do exactly what he did against the Titans. He blitzed off the edge a number of times, and he had two crucial stops taking out Henry on his own at or just behind the line of scrimmage.
Few players are able to even do that in the NFL and the list of corners able to do it can’t be much longer than Hilton himself. Head coach Zac Taylor had a long list of praise for Hilton following the game:
“I don’t know what [Hilton’s} height, weight is,” Taylor told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “I’m not going to guess, but he doesn’t care. He plays like he’s a 6-4, 240-pound linebacker. And that’s what you need from a nickel. I’ve always maintained that those scrappy nickels are the biggest pains to deal with. He’s smart. He’s scrappy. He can cover. He can tackle. He can do it all.”
Hilton is listed at 5-9, 184 pounds by the way. It is a really good description of how Hilton approaches the game though. He may not be the biggest, but he has no fear of going into thick of it at the line of scrimmage and take on the big linemen or running backs. He also hasn’t shown any reason to need to be concerned yet, but you can tell he loves that aspect of the game.
“We wanted to show them a little two-high and one-high. We definitely wanted to put it in Tannehill’s hands and, you know, good things came our way. We were able to stop the run and make them one-dimensional,” Hilton said. “I’m known as the best nickel run stopper in the league. I can just keep offenses off balance whether I’m blitzing or I’m not. I just like being able to move around and keep them off balance. It helps the defense as a whole.”
Hilton has been one of the biggest acquisitions since he was signed. He may not always show up in the box score, but his presence needs to be accounted for in the running game, which you can’t really say about any other nickel corner in the NFL.
On top of that, he has just been on of the best leaders. You can constantly see him cheering on the offense when he is on the sideline, and things like that have gone a long way with changing this team’s culture. His willingness to mix it up with the big guys also just gets everyone excited.
“It’s what I do best,” Hilton said. “I live for games like this.”