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2024 NFL Draft

Steelers CB Target Mike Sainristil Rising up Boards

The Pittsburgh Steelers might want Mike Sainristil but they would have to take him earlier than expected to land him.

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Pittsburgh Steelers

When the Pittsburgh Steelers take an interest in someone, it’s not hard to see it coming. And in the case of Michigan’s Mike Sainristil, it was all far too predictable. But the Steelers met with the impressive Michigan slot cornerback before his pro day on Friday, one of a few teams to do so, according to Tony Pauline. But it continues a strong string of interest that points to Sainristil being one of the potential answers in the slot for the Steelers. And Pauline believes that teams are looking at Sainristil not as a third-round pick but as a potentially early second-round pick.

Sainristil is only 5-foot-10, 182 pounds. Being like Jordan was never going to be in the cards. But he set out to be like another Mike: Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton. His offseason testing blew him up on the scouting trial and is contributing to Sainristil’s meteoric rise. But that could be the right fit for the Steelers if he is at 51st overall.

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.

Sainristil grew up a New England Patriots fan in Everett, Massachusetts, but said he always admired those Steelers teams with players like Antonio Brown and Santonio Holmes. He liked those players because in high school, Sainristil was a receiver — and a good one.

The three-star prospect was the second-ranked player in his state in the Rivals Class of 2019. As a junior in 2021, he had his best season, catching 22 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns. A few months later, he was a cornerback.

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. “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, 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.”