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Payton Wilson Could Fill Some of Ryan Shazier’s Shoes

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Pittsburgh Steelers LB Payton Wilson

The Pittsburgh Steelers bolstered the inside linebacker room this offseason by signing Patrick Queen to the highest free-agent deal in franchise history and selecting Chuck Bednarik Award winner Payton Wilson in the third round.

Both could finally be the long-sought spiritual replacement to Ryan Shazier that the Steelers have been searching for at inside linebacker since Shazier’s devastating career-ending spinal cord injury on December of 2017.

“This is a team that’s been searching for a Ryan Shazier replacement since his catastrophic, career-ending injury,” Brooke Pryor of ESPN said on the Adam Gold Show last week. “I think that they see Payton Wilson as someone that could maybe fill some of those shoes.”

Those are lofty expectations, but Wilson has some admirable attributes.

He 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 medical part of the sport has been part and parcel of the process for Wilson from a young age, but even he was taken back when he found out at the 2024 NFL Combine that he’s at least partially missing his ACL in one knee.

“I really don’t have a clue,” Wilson said when asked at rookie camp on Friday what it means that he doesn’t have an ACL. “When I went to the combine, that was the first time that I’d heard of it. I haven’t have problems with my knee since 2018. So, I mean, I’ve been blowing and going for a long time now with what they call a bum knee. In my head, I’ve been playing like this for so long, it doesn’t bother me. My knees don’t bother me. I’m not gonna have a problem with it.”

Pryor also noted that Cole Holcomb’s season-ending knee injury suffered last season could be something more serious. She thinks that’s why they drafted Wilson in the third round.

“They hoped Cole Holcomb would be that guy, and Cole Holcomb was playing really well last season until he had a season-ending injury. And that’s been a pretty significant injury,” Pryor said. “I think that Payton Wilson pairs really well with Patrick Queen and Elandon Roberts. To me, this is the continuation of a two-year effort to completely redo the inside linebacker group.”

Alan Saunders provided reporting from Pittsburgh.

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Edward Carmichael
Edward Carmichael
May 13, 2024 1:59 pm

as a true Steelers fan, both ILB’s Payton Wilson and Patrick Queen shouldn’t follow in the shadow of Ryan Shazier