Smallest player on Steelers defense, Mike Hilton one of the unit’s best tacklers
He’s the lightest and shortest player on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
So, how is Mike Hilton one of the unit’s best tacklers?
“Wrap and hold,” the diminutive cornerback said. “If you wrap-and-hold, they can’t go anywhere!”
Hilton has served as the Steelers’ top slot corner since the start of the 2017 season after he’d joined the organization late in the season prior on their practice squad. And while Hilton has been satisfactory in his coverage skills, it’s in his run defense and in rushing the passer where he’s excelled.
“It’s just something I have worked on,” the 5-foot-9, 184-pound Hilton said of tackling, “especially me pretty much being undersized my whole life, going against bigger guys, just finding ways to get them to the ground. It might not be the most physical tackle that people want to see — but it gets the job done.”
Mike Hilton makes you feel comfortable playing in nickel against 12 personnel. Best run stopping slot corner in football. 17 TFL since 2017 T-2nd most in NFL by a DB. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/xfdVFbMaWi
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) September 18, 2019
A high school running back, Hilton said he’s studied tackling and is smart enough to recognize that a big hit is less likely to tackle a player than wrapping him up at his legs.
“Unless I got a free shot, I know my tackles aren’t going to be any big hits,” Hilton said. “Wrap-and-hold — it works.”
The Steelers are showing just how much they respect Hilton’s tackling in their utilization of him this season. Though Cameron Sutton has been hard-charging in regards to earning more playing time, the Steelers still are giving Hilton the majority of the nickel reps. That’s because he can tackle — the Steelers have tended to use Hilton on running downs and Sutton in sure-passing situations.
Despite playing just 53% of his team’s defensive snaps, PFF reports that Hilton is second in the NFL in “stops” among all cornerbacks. PFF defines “stops” as “the cumulative number of solo defensive tackles made which constitute an offensive failure.”
Last season, PFF rated Hilton as the NFL’s 10th-best cornerback against the run; he was No. 3 against the run and tied for second in “stops” and QB hurries during his first season (2017). Hilton tied for the league lead in sack among cornerbacks that season with four.
“He’s a great tackler,” defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said, “and that’s why we blitz him so much throughout his years here.
“Man, we didn’t know what we were getting when we got him — but that dude has delivered. There’s not a lot of nickels that can do a lot of what he can do.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .