When Mike Hilton hit the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers, by storm in 2017, he became one of the league's best inside corners. The slot position wasn't safe from the 5'9 nickelback, but that seemed to be as far as his impact went.
Despite statistically being one of the NFL's best slot corners, Hilton watched his team fault time and time again because of the defense he was trying to improve.
To fans, the undrafted corner became one of the team's most exciting players. Coming from no where, earning his place on the 53-man roster and subsequently the starting job by Week 1.
Only to be part of a unit that let up 45 points in their first playoff game of the season.
Now there's stats to know before completely saying Hilton was a rare bright spot in an otherwise poor defense. Pittsburgh's unit as a whole finished 5th in the NFL in total defense and passing yards per game.
However, they also finished 19th in scoring defense, allowing 19.2 PPG to opponents. In 2018, that number jumped to 22.5.
Enter Kameron Kelly. The former San Diego State grad endured a long journey before entering the NFL. At only 23-years-old, this is Kelly's third team and second league.
When Kelly entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie at Cowboys' mini camp, he was trying to earn his spot as a corner after transitioning during his senior year at San Diego State. He looked uncomfortable with a strong lack of natural instinct when he was playing the receiver and not the ball.
After being cut prior to the preseason, Kelly waited for another chance to earn his place in the National Football League. It didn't happen. So, like many former NFL players looking for a new start, Kelly took his skills to the AAF, joining the San Diego Fleet playing both corner and safety.
In eight games with the Fleet, Kelly led the league in interceptions, accumulating four in his short time with the team. And like all good things, just as Kelly was starting to gain some traction to showcase to pro teams, the Alliance of American Football seized operations. Leaving Kelly and the rest of the league heading back to the open market.
Gaining enough attention, a number of NFL teams jumped on the opportunity to sign some of these AAF players, essentially seeing if their play against each other could translate back into the other American football league.
On April 8, the Pittsburgh Steelers took a chance on one of those players.
In a summer filled with headlines, ex-players tweeting and whatever you want to call Antonio Brown's actions, the Steelers remained calm. Instead of jumping at the noise, they quieted it. Especially their defense.
Today, Kameron Kelly is preparing to take the field with the starting defense as safety Sean Davis tends to an ankle injury. The team's most unlikely story, Kelly seems ready to contribute to this team. To the same degree, the fans seems excited to see what the AAF turnover can do in his first NFL game.
But instead of being a diamond in the rough while the Steelers try to win games through their offense, Kelly is looked upon to do a little more. Pittsburgh's defense isn't looking to 'do enough' but to do 'as much' as they can.
After adding inside linebackers (Mark Barron and Devin Bush) and a cornerback (Steven Nelson), this unit isn't taking a minor step forward. This season, they're looking to take a curtain sized step in towards returning to the franchise's beloved 11.
Mike Hilton became a small star in a team that was struggling to find it's identity. Kameron Kelly steps in as a story of triumph that should be part of the Steelers' journey to proving to the entire NFL, that while everyone was paying attention to the headlines, they were missing the progress.