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Payton Wilson Confirms He’s Playing in Dime Packages

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Pittsburgh Steelers ILB Payton Wilson

Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-round selection Payton 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 an impressive 9.89 Relative Athletic Score out of 10. Those are eye-popping numbers for a linebacker.

Wilson’s athleticism jumps out on tape, too. He was a sideline-to-sideline linebacker at NC State, recording 138 total tackles, six sacks, three interceptions, six passes defended, a forced fumble and one defensive touchdown in 2023. He won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the top defender in the country and the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker last year.

If it wasn’t for a lengthy injury history, Payton Wilson would have been a sure-fire first-round pick in the draft. The Steelers potentially could have got a real steal.

Pittsburgh Steelers Payton Wilson

Wilson revealed at OTAs on Thursday that the Steelers are using him as their linebacker in dime packages. Pittsburgh has been searching for an elite coverage linebacker since Ryan Shazier’s devastating career-ending spinal cord injury in December of 2017.

In recent years, the Steelers have been destroyed by athletic tight ends and slot receivers. Wilson very well could be the answer.

“In our dime situations, I’m the backer that’s out there, so being able to cover man, whether it’s a tight end or running back, sometimes even on a slot, just having that faith from Coach [Aaron] Curry, Coach TA [Teryl Austin] just has been really awesome for me,” Wilson told Christopher Carter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Wilson admitted that there’s a learning curve with how fluid players are in the NFL, especially guys like slot receiver Scotty Miller. The athleticism of tight ends at the pro level is also one big difference that Wilson has noticed.

“In college, you have some good ones, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of times they’re blocking tight ends,” Wilson said. “But even Darnell [Washington], he’s 6-8, I don’t know how much he weighs, but he can run a crisp route, he’s pretty fast, so just every single person you go against, every tight end, every running back, you gotta be on your A game.”

Wilson is just getting acclimated with the playbook and his teammates now. He knows the true test will be at training camp when the pads come on.

“I love practicing. But right now, I feel we’re in underwear almost practicing, right?” Wilson said. “I can’t wait to get to Latrobe. Those first few days we’re gonna be acclimating. But then after that, once we get the pads on that’s really when you showcase who you are and how well you can play.”

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