If you watched a lot of SEC football back in 2013 and 2014, then you probably knew the name Senquez Golson. He was a small, fiery competitor from Mississippi who was drastically undersized for the cornerback position. In his career, he matched up against wide receivers like Mike Evans, Sammie Coates, and Odell Beckham, and held his own more often than not.
Golson rated out as one of the best cornerbacks in SEC football his senior year in 2014, as he recorded a conference-high 10 interceptions. There was a lot of speculation about Golson entering the 2015 NFL draft. Some teams deemed him as a second round pick because of his level of success against great competition. Other teams reportedly Golson off their draft boards entirely, as he drastically failed to meet certain size standards some teams look for in defensive backs.
Eventually, Senquez Golson heard his name called by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round. However, it wasn’t long before fans were wishing they would have passed on the 5’09” cornerback. Before he could even set foot on the field in team drills at Latrobe, Golson was injured in rookie minicamp and missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury. The following year, Golson was sidelined yet again with a Lisfranc (foot) issue.
Now in his third season, Golson has yet to be healthy enough to even make an appearance in one preseason game (as of Week 3). However, in the midst of all the frustration regarding the former second round pick, there is reason for hope. Ironically enough, the hope of Steelers solidifying their slot cornerback position comes in the form of yet another 5’09” cornerback from Ole Miss. His name is Mike Hilton.
To make things even more interesting, Hilton not only played for the same school the Steelers drafted Golson from, he started two full seasons as the opposite corner of Senquez at Mississippi. In terms of stature and athleticism, Golson and Hilton are nearly identical:
|Player||Height||Weight||40yd dash||Bench Press||Vertical||Broad Jump||Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Senquez Golson||5’09”||176lbs||4.46||16||33 1/2”||10′||4.2||6.81|
|Mike Hilton||5’09”||178lbs||4.55||13||33 1/2”||9’09”||4.19||6.86|
Both cornerbacks measure in at not a shade over five foot nine, and (according to numbers from their Pro Days), both players fail to reach even 180 pounds. While Golson was a tenth faster in the forty yard dash, these two players practically mirror each other in every category.
Comparing their college statistics, it would have been hard for teams to have Mike Hilton rated higher on their big boards than Golson. Here is a look at both cornerback’s senior years:
|Mike Hilton||*2015||Ole Miss||SEC||SR||12||70||12.5||1.5||2||11||0||1|
|Senquez Golson||*2014||Ole Miss||SEC||SR||13||43||3||0.5||10||7||0||0|
While Hilton acquired far more tackles, tackles for loss, and passes defensed, Golson was among the leaders in the Nation for interceptions with 10 – a stat that is hard to overlook. Both players proved to be productive in the best conference in college football, yet one was drafted in the second round, while the other fell out of the draft completely. It’s especially intriguing to me that two of the smallest corners in the NFL not only started opposite each other at Ole Miss, they also reunited as Pittsburgh Steelers in the most ironic of circumstances.
While Golson is sidelined entering his third straight season, his former counterpart, Mike Hilton is taking advantage. Whether you follow the Steelers closely or not, number 40 should have stood out to you in a major way over the last three preseason games. Hilton can be seen breaking up passes, recovering fumbles, or even flying in for a quarterback sack. Though he’s microscopic in terms of football stature, his play replicates that of a much bigger and more athletic defensive back.
Hilton spent the summer of his rookie campaign with the Jacksonville Jaguars before he was released on August 29th, 2016. In September he landed in New England, but only lasted eight days before he was cut yet again. Finally, Hilton was signed to the Steelers practice squad in December. This time, Hilton may have found his home.
The Steelers have been desperate to find help at the nickel cornerback position, but Mike Hilton, who now appears to be running with the Steelers first-team defense, has a strong chance to help fill that void. Beat writer Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter, even wrote that he believes Hilton we be the Steelers starter at slot corner from day one.
Much like All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, Hilton is an undersized player who had to work his tail off from the bottom of the roster to where he is today. If the trend continues, we will see Hilton making plays on the field on Sundays.
It’s hard to be too optimistic about a 5’09” undrafted cornerback, but at least one of their slot corners is starting to play like a second round pick.