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2024 NFL Draft

Steelers Draft Grades: Payton Wilson Plays with Special Athleticism

The Pittsburgh Steelers got a steal in linebacker Payton Wilson in the third round of the 2024 NFL Draft, but they have to project him right.



Pittsburgh Steelers Payton Wilson

PITTSBURGH — The name for the Pittsburgh Steelers in this game was all about speed. Donte Jackson and Patrick Queen illustrated that, but now Payton Wilson illustrates the same thing. Omar Khan and the Steelers draft brass have handled one thing at a high level throughout this entire process: maximizing value.

They did it with the Justin Fields trade and have done it again in the NFL Draft. There might be no better example of that than Wilson, however. With medical concerns dropping him down the board, including the fact that he does not have an ACL in one of his knees, Wilson’s traits that make him pop are evident.

First, there’s the elite speed. No one has the speed and explosiveness that someone like Wilson possesses in this class of linebackers, even if it is a weaker group. On top of that, Wilson’s toughness and leadership speak volumes to the type of player that the Steelers are hoping to bolster the inside linebacker position with alongside Queen.

Wilson is a tremendous sideline-to-sideline backer that’s capable of patrolling the middle of the field by using his rangy athleticism to cover an enormous amount of ground. There are some negatives, such as the fact that he lacks the preferred length to stack and shed blocks at the second level. He’s athletic, loves to hit and his film checks a lot of boxes for what teams look for at the position, provided he can stay on the field.

The other concerning factor about his projection is that Wilson is not in one ‘true’ position. Yes, he will be a linebacker, but he did not play as a stack linebacker in NC State’s scheme a ton, meaning that his reads were simplified, and he often could play as a ‘see ball’ player. That’s fine, but his processing will have to improve. He reminds me some of Isaiah Simmons with his level of positionless ness on the football field, but if you have a defined role for someone like that, especially with Wilson’s blitzing ability, he can be a weapon.

For where he landed, the value is impeccable, even if there are significant questions about Wilson’s game that I have. The Steelers’ draft value here is maximized, and Wilson has the potential to be a star if they can nurture his talent and he stays healthy. All in all, he has plenty of projection that is worrying on his tape. Still, the athleticism paired with easily identifiable strengths and weaknesses makes this pick a very good, especially when you hold the No. 98 pick in the NFL Draft.

Grade: A-