Oftentimes a change in scenery can bring the best out of a player. That was precisely the case for Cincinnati Bengals DB Mike Hilton in 2021. After spending four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hilton emerged as one of the best slot corners the NFL has to offer in his first year with Cincinnati.

Hilton finished his ’21 campaign with two interceptions – one of which went for a touchdown – and a forced fumble. Not to mention his incredible pick in the playoffs against Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans.

Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus released his list of the top 10 slot corners in the NFL heading into the 2022 season. Bengals fans won’t be surprised to find Hilton at No. 2 on the list.

“Hilton’s 84.4 slot coverage grade is fifth in the league since 2017,” wrote Treash. “The veteran finished second among slot cornerbacks — and 13th among all cornerbacks — in WAR last season despite being tasked with much more man coverage in his first year with the Bengals.”

This particular top 10 does not include outside cornerbacks. It only considers corners who spend most of their time in the slot.

What makes Hilton’s ’21 season even more impressive is that it was his first year in defensive coordinator Louie Cioffi’s system. Sure, Hilton spent four years under the tutelage of head coach Mike Tomlin and that famed Steelers defense, but to have such an impactful season in a new system goes to show the level of football IQ the former Ole Miss Rebel plays with.

While nobody in Cincinnati will complain about Hilton’s first season with the team, his responsibilities are only going to increase with the influx of quarterback talent in the AFC. Cincinnati’s AFC North rival in the Cleveland Browns added QB Deshaun Watson, who poses a threat to secondaries across the conference with his arm.

Hilton played a critical role in the Bengals’ sixth ranked pass defense in 2021. Though Bengals Nation felt he was a Pro Bowl snub last season, if this type of production continues in ’22 he is sure to be named to the annual exhibition for the first time in his career at season’s end.

Featured image via Kareem Elgazzar – USA TODAY NETWORK