College: NC State
Age (Draft Day): 24
Height/Weight: 6'4", 230 lbs
40 Yard Dash: 4.55 seconds
Payton Wilson's path to the NFL hasn't been without bumps. A highly-touted recruit out of Raleigh, North Carolina, he arrived at NC State with a 4-star rating and sky-high expectations. But injuries marred his early years, limiting him to just 11 games total in his first two seasons. However, when healthy, Wilson showcased his immense talent, flashing glimpses of the dominant linebacker he could become.
Emerging from a redshirt freshman year due to a second knee injury, Luke Wilson burst onto the scene for NC State. He spearheaded the Wolfpack defense in his first full season, leading the team with 69 tackles. His redshirt sophomore campaign saw him reach another level, racking up 108 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions.
This dominant season earned him the first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) honor. Unfortunately, injury struck again in his junior year, cutting his season short after just two games. Wilson roared back in 2023, cementing his legacy as college football's top linebacker by capturing the coveted Butkus Award.
Coverage: Wilson possesses a rare combination of size, speed, and instincts that make him a shutdown defender in coverage. He can seamlessly drop back, shadow tight ends, and even hang with shifty slot receivers. His awareness and anticipation skills are off the charts, leading to countless pass deflections and even the occasional interception.
Block Shedding: Wilson is a physical force against the run. He excels at stacking blockers, shedding them with impressive power, and making tackles in the open field. His length and leverage disrupt run plays and make him a key cog in stopping the rush.
Tackling: When Wilson wraps up a ball carrier, they stay wrapped up. He boasts outstanding tackling technique, consistently bringing ball carriers down with sure-fire hits. His physicality and form prevent missed tackles and limit yards after contact.
Football IQ: Wilson's on-field awareness is truly special. He reads plays like a seasoned veteran, quickly diagnosing formations and reacting to quarterback adjustments. This high football IQ allows him to anticipate plays, be in the right place at the right time, and make game-changing tackles.
Injury History: The elephant in the room is Wilson's extensive injury history. He's battled hamstring issues, a shoulder injury, and even a torn ACL, raising concerns about his durability. Teams will need to be thorough in their medical evaluations before committing a high draft pick.
Pass Rush Limitations: While Wilson can contribute to the pass rush by blitzing, he isn't a natural edge rusher. His lack of explosive burst and refined moves might limit his ability to consistently generate sacks at the NFL level.
NFL Comparison: Sean Lee
Like Lee, Wilson is a cerebral linebacker with exceptional coverage skills and instincts. Both players boast outstanding football IQs and can diagnose plays before they unfold. However, both also share similar concerns about their injury histories and limitations as pure pass rushers.
Draft Projection: 2nd-4th Round
Wilson's talent is undeniable, but his medicals and limitations as a pass rusher will likely cause him to slide in the draft. If teams are confident in his health, he could be a steal in the 2nd or 3rd round, with the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker. However, a drop to the 4th round remains possible if concerns about his durability persist. Payton Wilson has the talent and intelligence to be a star in the NFL. But questions about his health will linger until draft day. Only time will tell how high he climbs. The team that takes a chance on him could reap the rewards for years to come.