by Ryan Myers
Photo courtesy of Inside Pack Sports.
At Draft 412, the NFL draft talk never ends. We will keep you ready for the next set of gridiron stars—from today and all the way until draft night 2024. We will bring you mock drafts, player profiles, individual team needs, and everything else you may need related to the 2024 NFL Draft.
Today’s Spotlight - N.C. State, Linebacker, Payton Wilson
Name - Payton Wilson
Pos - LB
Team - NC State
HT/WT - 6’4” 238 lbs.
Home – Hillsborough, NC
Out of high school, Wilson was 6'4", 225 lbs. and was a consensus 4-star recruit by ESPN, 247Sports, and Rivals.com. He attended Orange High School in his hometown of Hillsborough, NC. His career stats from high school include 266 tackles, 70 TFL, 24 sacks, and two interceptions. In his senior season, he accrued 103 tackles, 21 TFL ,10 sacks, a pick-six, two passes defended, and one fumble recovery.
Wilson’s college career began in 2019 as he played 11 games off the bench for the Wolfpack after recovering from a knee injury which he sustained the summer before the season. He played well in the opportunities he had and led the defense in tackles despite coming off the bench in all games except one.
This earned him more playing time in a starting role in his sophomore season. He used this opportunity to break out and lead the NC State defense in tackles once again with an impressive 108 tackles. He also had 11.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks in that season while also recording 2 interceptions and 3 passes defended. This breakout earned Wilson a First Team All-ACC appearance and put him on the radar as one of the best linebackers in the conference and in the country.
However, he suffered a season ending shoulder injury just two games into his junior year and returned to the field in 2022 for his senior year, recording 82 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 interception and 4 passes defended.
In addition to his play on the defensive side of the ball, Wilson became a huge part of the NC State special teams and has done very well in that aspect of the game. He ended up being a semi-finalist for the 2022 Comeback Player of the Year Award and was a co-recipient of the Ken McNeill Iron Wolf Award, given to the player with the biggest comeback from injury.
Wilson had an opportunity to leave for the NFL draft after last season but decided to stay at NC State for his 5th year. He had a day two projection for last year’s draft. So far this season for the Wolfpack defense, Wilson has played in 3 games and has 33 tackles and 2 TFL. He is projected to be one of the leading tacklers not only in the ACC, but in the entire country this season.
Payton Wilson is a 6’4”, 238 lb. linebacker with length, speed and a nose for the football. He plays quick and physical and is a fantastic tackler who has the toughness, work ethic, and competitiveness to succeed in the NFL. All of these aspects will help Wilson climb draft boards and succeed in the NFL as he rarely lets a ball carrier get past him. He is a great run stopper and plays well in passing situations. He always knows where the football is and is aggressive when moving toward it. He fills running gaps and makes tackles that less athletic linebackers may miss while also being able to drop back into shallow coverage when needed to defend passes.
On the downside, Wilson lacks the top end strength to shed blocks, which may catch up to him at the next level. He isn’t the best in coverage and coupled with his injury history, some teams may balk. He tends to try to run past blocks instead of using his arms and hands to break them down. He likes to lower his shoulders and attempt to penetrate run blocking schemes with a burst of speed. As he transitions into the NFL, the linemen are stronger which will not bode well for this strategy. This tendency could also explain his injury history with two bad shoulders requiring surgery. Also, Wilson is good when it comes to shallow coverages, but as he drops further towards the secondary, his coverage ability dwindles. His man coverage skills are mediocre and must be improved if he wants to be an every-down linebacker in the NFL.
- Good tackler
- Block shedding
- Average strength
- Man coverage
- Injury history
The question marks around Wilson are mostly forgivable, including his injury history. If Wilson can stay on the field and off the injury lists, he could be a great addition to any NFL linebacker group with his run-stopping ability and great tackling. He is at his best when he plays close to the line of scrimmage and bursts through gaps to either stop the run or sack the QB. Overall, Payton Wilson is a strong-willed, hardworking linebacker and a leader for the NC State defense who will likely be a late day two or day three pick if all goes to plan this year.
Draft 412 Draft Projection – Round 5