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2024 NFL Draft

Michigan CB Says He’d Love to Create ‘No-Fly Zone’ with Steelers

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Pittsburgh Steelers

In a recent interview with Mitch Kaiser of Pro Football Focus, Michigan cornerback Mike Sainristil said he would love to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and create a “no-fly zone” with Joey Porter Jr. As expected with growing up in  Massachusetts, Sainristil was a New England Patriots fan, but he told Kaiser that he always admired the Black and Gold.

Sainristil can see himself playing for either team, but he’ll be happy with whatever team he lands with.

“But at the end of the day, whoever is willing to give me an opportunity, that’s all that matters,” Sainristil said.

Steelers haven’t properly replaced the slot cornerback position since Mike Hilton left for Cincinnati following the 2020 season. A Hilton clone is in this year’s draft in Michigan cornerback Mike Sainristil, but Connor Rogers of NBC Sports doesn’t expect him to be on the board long. He thinks he’ll get drafted within the top 50, which could leave the Steelers on the outside looking in.

“Despite being undersized at 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, the former wide receiver has the ball skills that can change the game at any moment,” Rogers wrote. “It’s essentially a non-factor that Sainristil will be a slot corner at the next level with how often teams deploy at least three cornerbacks. It’s hard seeing him get out of the top 50.”

Sainristil is only 5-foot-10, 182 pounds. Being like Jordan was never going to be in the cards. But he did set out to be like another Mike: Former Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton.

Hilton was even smaller than Sainristil when he went through the draft process and came out unselected in 2016, checking in at 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds. But he found a way to turn that size into a big impact, becoming a huge part of the Pittsburgh defense in his four seasons in black and gold.

Since Hilton left for free agency in 2021, the Steelers have yet to really be able to replace the production that he provided in that role as a run-down slot cornerback. A combination of Cam Sutton, Art Maulet, Chandon Sullivan and Patrick Peterson have tried to plug that gap over the last three seasons, but none have provided the type of total package that Hilton was in terms of his ability to play the run and the pass, rush the quarterback and get back in coverage.

The Steelers met with the impressive Michigan slot cornerback before his pro day, one of a few teams to do so, according to Tony Pauline of Sportskeeda. But it continues a strong string of interest that points to Sainristil being one of the potential answers in the slot for the Steelers.

After Dax Hill went on to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, Michigan needed a slot cornerback, and Jim Harbaugh saw a potential fit. Sainristil needed someone to follow through that transition and found Hilton.

That being said, they’re not exactly the same kind of player. Sainristil is taller. He had six interceptions in his final season at Michigan. Hilton had six over three seasons as a starter at Ole Miss. That wide receiver background is definitely and advantage for Sainristil.

“I’m just very instinctual,” he said at the NFL Combine. “Like I said earlier, just being somebody who knows how to find the football. Whether it’s in the air or on the ground. … I had to stop myself from trying to find the ball too much in terms of my coverage. I’m still continuing to work on eye discipline. But I think my instincts and my natural ability to be around the football is what helps me play how I play at the Nickel position.”

The Steelers had a formal meeting with Sainristil at the NFL Combine, and he said he liked getting to know head coach Mike Tomlin.

“I like him a lot,” Sainristil said with a big smile. “He’s a great guy, a great coach.”