3 Steelers cornerbacks will see bigger roles in 2021 without Nelson, Hilton

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback James Pierre (42). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback James Pierre (42). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mike Hilton recently signed with the Bengals and Steven Nelson will be parting ways with the Steelers. Here are three cornerbacks who will have an increased role in 2021.

I don’t think anyone was surprised when Mike Hilton earned a sizable contract with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. Hilton was apparently counting down the days until free agency, and after playing for nearly the minimum salary for the Steelers over his first four years, Hilton seized an opportunity to cash in big with a four-year, $24 million deal. Recently, we learned that Steven Nelson will also be traded or cut as a way to keep JuJu Smith-Schuster around for one more season.

In a different year under different circumstances, perhaps Pittsburgh would have been able to keep both of these cornerbacks, but they apparently had other priorities in 2021. The Steelers have now lost six starting-level players this offseason (including Vince Williams who was recently let go), and they have their work cut out for them to fill these voids. Now that Hilton has departed and Nelson will soon leave the organization, three cornerbacks currently stand to see increased roles in 2021. Here’s what each player could offer Pittsburgh’s defense next year:

Cameron Sutton

Before Hilton was even signed by the Bengals and the news of Steven Nelson broke, the Steelers made sure to ink a deal with Cameron Sutton that would lock him up in black and gold for the next two seasons. We knew that Pittsburgh wouldn’t have the luxury of keeping both Hilton and Sutton, but quite honestly, I think they did the right thing.

While Hilton is unquestionably a better blitzer and run defender, he’s not as good in coverage (which is pretty important for cornerbacks). Sutton is also more position-flexible and is able to play both in the slot and on the outside. In a somewhat limited role, he managed to be the team’s highest-graded cornerback in each of the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.

With Hilton gone, it looked like Sutton was set to slide into the nickel cornerback role in 2021 for the Steelers – a role that was previously occupied by Hilton. However, Pittsburgh could also use him outside the hashes now that Steven Nelson will no longer be with the team in 2021.