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ESPN: Pittsburgh Steelers' selection of NC State LB Payton Wilson among best Round 3 picks

profilephotocropby:Suzanne Halliburton04/30/24


payton wilson steelers draft
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

After three straight offensive selections, the Steelers finally helped their defense, going with NC State’s Payton Wilson. Some call Wilson the steal of the draft. An ESPN analyst dubbed him as one of the best picks of the third round.

Field Yates, an NFL Draft analyst for ESPN, put Wilson in the “best of category.” That’s because Yates believes Wilson is the top inside linebacker of the entire draft.

He wrote: “Wilson landed at No. 98 because of his injury history. But the end of the third round was more than a reasonable time to justify the investment — this was an incredible value. I thought he was the most impressive inside linebacker on tape, showing off elite speed and versatility. Wilson can pass rush and cover, he has great range defending runs sideline-to-sideline and he’s extremely instinctive. Wilson

joins free agent signing Patrick Queen in Pittsburgh’s attempt to rebuild the LB room.

If you’re curious, here are the others Yates mentioned as his third-round superlatives:

Isaiah Adams, G, Arizona Cardinals (No. 71), Illinois
Calen Bullock, S, Houston Texans (No. 78), USC
Christian Haynes, G, Seattle Seahawks (No. 81), Connecticut

NC State football Payton Wilson
NC State linebacker Payton Wilson (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Steelers kick off draft on offensive roll

The Steelers went all offense with their first three picks. First, Pittsburgh picked Washington’s Troy Fautanu. Then came their new center, Zach Frazier of West Virginia. Then the Steelers addressed their receiver needs with Michigan’s Roman Wilson. (Pittsburgh owned two selections in the first round).

Then, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator got someone for his side of the ball. And in Wilson, they drafted a ferocious linebacker who reportedly slid in the draft because teams had concerns about his injury history. When healthy, Wilson was good enough to win both the Butkus (top linebacker in the country) and Bednarik (best defensive player) in 2023. He also was a unanimous All-American.

Then he showed off at the NFL Combine, running a 4.43-second time in the 40-yard dash. That time was the fastest of all the linebackers.

“He was a guy we had high on our board,” Austin told reporters. “Liked him as a football player. Very productive, fast, really has good football instincts. All the things you want in a football player. Seeing him where he was and having an opportunity to get him, we thought that was a good thing and we like where we’re at with that.”

“He brings some speed to our defense,” said the Steelers defensive coordinator. “He brings some physicality to our defense. The ability to cover guys. That’s what I look at.”

As a review, here are the Steelers draft picks:

Troy Fautanu – Offensive Tackle – Round 1
Zach Frazier – Center – Round 2
Roman Wilson – Wide Receiver – Round 3
Payton Wilson – Linebacker – Round 3
Mason McCormick – Guard – Round 4
Logan Lee – Defensive End – Round 6
Ryan Watts – Defensive Back – Round 6

Wilson slipped because of knee issues

Wilson’s injuries included ACL tears severe enough to make other teams take a pause. But Wilson said injuries are part of what motivates him.

“I think when you turn on my tape, I think you can see that I play with my hair on fire,” Wilson told reporters Friday night, “and that’s really because of what I have been through.

“I have seen the game can be taken away from you, so I just play as hard as I can.”

Later, Wilson said he watched the Steelers while growing up in North Carolina. He modeled his game on how the Steel Curtain played.

“Hard, fast, physical and playing as tough as you can play,” Wilson said. “Super excited to get with everyone there and continue to elevate my game.”