Why the Slide?: Payton Wilson, LB, N.C. State

Payton Wilson

This series was created a number of years ago in response to questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For these articles, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

One draft prospect who was loved and hyped by the media during the 2024 NFL Draft process was N.C. State linebacker Payton Wilson. It was easy to understand why Wilson received so much hype; he was prolific in his final season with the Wolfpack, totaling 138 tackles, six sacks, one forced fumble, three interceptions and six passes broken up. After the season, Wilson had a quality week at the Senior Bowl and worked out well in pre-draft workouts. Most had Wilson going in the second round, and there some projections of him being a late first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Hence, many were surprised when he slipped into back half of the third round and didn’t come off the board until pick No. 98.

Team sources told WalterFootball.com that medical red flags killed Wilson around the league. He suffered two torn ACLs in college. A few sources said their teams thought he might only last one contract in the NFL, although they felt he could be a good player during that time. The medical concerns were significant enough to push Wilson within three picks of the fourth round.

The Pittsburgh Steelers ended Wilson’s slide, and they were a decent landing spot for him. Devin Bush was a first-round bust for the Steelers, and Pittsburgh has been looking for a difference-maker in the middle of the defense. Patrick Queen was signed in free agency, and Elandon Roberts is the other starter for the Steelers, so Wilson will be relegated to backup duty. Wilson could be a rotational player to help keep the veterans fresh and contribute on special teams. If Wilson plays well when he gets opportunities, he could conceivably beat out Queen or Roberts for a starting spot during the course of his rookie contract. Wilson is a good player and possesses the skill set to be a starter in the NFL, but his biggest challenge could be staying healthy. If Wilson avoids injury, he could turn into a good pro for Pittsburgh.


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