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2024 NFL Draft

Steelers Draft NC State Linebacker Payton Wilson

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Pittsburgh Steelers Payton Wilson
Payton Wilson, NC State Athletics

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have selected linebacker Payton Wilson from NC State with their second of two third-round picks at No. 98 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft.

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 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.

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.

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.

Changes to the kickoff rules may have the Steelers and other NFL teams prioritizing more linebackers for their active game-day rosters.

The Steelers interviewed Wilson at the Senior Bowl, and also brought him to Pittsburgh for a top-30 visit, where he met with defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

A native of Hillsborough, North Carolina, Wilson also wrestled in high school, like second-round center Zach Frazier. He has a relationship with former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, a fellow NC State linebacker alum.