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Luke Kuechly Gives High Praise to Payton Wilson



Pittsburgh Steelers Payton Wilson

None other than former Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly gave Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-round selection Payton Wilson his flowers during an appearance on the Up & Adams show with Kay Adams on Monday.

“At the draft, I always look at linebackers,” Kuechly told Adams. “And there’s a guy I loved watching for a long time up at NC State. Payton Wilson. He ran extremely well in the 4.4s. And he’s been super productive, and he plays super hard.”

Talk about high praise. Kuechly is one of the best linebackers to ever play the game, earning seven Pro Bowls and five first-team All-Pro selections in an 8-year career. Kuechly had over 100 tackles in every season that he played, finishing with a whopping 1,092 tackles.

The show then displayed a graphic comparing Wilson’s combine numbers to Kuechly’s, as well as his height and weight measurables.

“There you go,” Kuechly said motioning to the graphic. “He’s taller than me and he’s faster than me. I’m jealous of those guys.”

Wilson is a 6-foot-4, 235-pound linebacker with a rare combination of size and speed, but also a lengthy injury history that led to teams passing on him in the draft. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network said that Wilson does not have an ACL in one of his knees.

Wilson ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash in the pre-draft process, a 4.2-second short shuttle and a 6.85-second three-cone drill for a 9.89 RAS out of 10.

Wilson was a five-year player at NC State, and he had his best statistical season in 2023, when he recorded 138 total tackles, six sacks, three interceptions, six passes defended, a forced fumble and one defensive touchdown. He won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the top defender in the country and the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker.

Wilson was projected as the No. 46 player on the NFL Mock Draft Database big board, falling 40 spots on his significant injury history. Throughout his career, Wilson has dealt with knee injuries, shoulder injuries, and some questions about a concussion. From what is known about his medical history since high school, he has undergone over ten surgeries. That includes surgeries on both shoulders and multiple on his right knee. So, there are some serious questions about durability with Wilson.

Live from the draft party at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday, Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward asked Wilson, “What is Pittsburgh getting with you?” Given his nature and blue-collar mindset, the answer wasn’t all that surprising.

“A guy that if there is 75 downs played I want out there for all 75 and I’m going to be looking to rip someone’s head off on every one of them,” Wilson told Heyward during an appearance on the Not Just Football podcast, via Steelers fan @Mazursky8895 on X.

Rhett Lewis of NFL Network predicted that Wilson will win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“Sign him up already for a hundred tackles already,” Lewis said of Wilson, via Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot. “It’s gonna happen. He was an absolute monster on the field for NC State. [He has a] GPS to the football. Blew up the [NFL Scouting] Combine with his athleticism. He’s had some injury concerns, which led to the fall down the draft board, but he landed in a great spot there.”

It’s way too early to suggest that Payton Wilson is the next Luke Kuechly. Those are gaudy expectations. But they do share similar characteristics and personalities.