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2024 NFL Draft

Payton Wilson Admires Steelers and NC State Legend Bill Cowher



Pittsburgh Steelers LB Payton Wilson

In NC State’s win over Wake Forest last November, Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-round selection Payton Wilson passed legend Bill Cowher (371) for seventh place all-time in NC State history. Wilson concluded his career with 402 tackles, fifth-most in school history.

Cowher’s 195 stops in 1978 still stand as a single-season record. He recorded two 24-tackle games (against South Carolina in 1977 and Clemson in 1978), tallies that still rank second in the record books.

Cowher, who was inducted into the Wolfpack Football’s Ring of Honor last September, is someone that Wilson admires. It makes sense, as like Wilson, Cowher was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense, sideline-to-sideline linebacker.

“That’s one of my idols, an NC State legend, someone who lives life the right way, on and off the field. His name’s in the Ring of Honor at NC State, and he is one of the best coaches to ever coach in the game and one of the best linebackers to ever play. So just super excited to wear this jersey and continue his legacy,” Wilson said.

Cowher is the only former NC State player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Philip Rivers and Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson could join him someday, though.

Before he became a Hall of Fame head coach with the Steelers, Cowher played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. He played mostly on special teams and was a fringe player. Unlike Cowher, however, Wilson is expected to make an impact in the NFL, but a lengthy injury history does raise some concerns. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network said that Wilson does not have an ACL in one of his knees.

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.

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.

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 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.

The Steelers don’t have an immediately obvious need at linebacker. They signed free agent Patrick Queen from the Baltimore Ravens earlier this offseason and are also set to return 2023 starters Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb, though Holcomb is still returning from a mid-season knee injury, without a firm timeframe.

Alan Saunders and Nick Farabaugh provided reporting from Pittsburgh.