2024 NFL Draft: North Carolina State LB Payton Wilson scouting report

The winner of the 2023 Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker, the 2023 Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defensive player, and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Payton Wilson was a four-star recruit out of Orange High School in Hillsborough, North Carolina. He missed his freshman season of 2018 due to knee injuries, but came on in 2019, and never looked back. In the Wolfpack’s 2023 season, Wilson totaled six sacks, 22 total pressures, 92 solo tackles, 67 stops, and he allowed 24 catches on 37 targets for 221 yards, 164 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, three interceptions, three pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 47.2.

Linebackers have been devalued to a degree in the NFL, but linebackers like Wilson, who has such impressive and efficient versatility, don’t come around every day, either.


— Depending on where he’s aligned pre-snap, can cover everywhere from the flat to hook/curl. An instinctive natural in coverage.

— Can rush the quarterback off-ball and on the line of scrimmage. Has the speed to chase down mobile quarterbacks all over the field, and can even get a little bendy around the edge.

— Gap-shooting expert who will quickly cross the faces of blockers, and moves to the ballcarrier in a hurry.

— Reacts quickly and intelligently to fakes and misdirection to the line of scrimmage; you can tell that he has a quick-twitch brain.

— Reads the quarterback well enough to break off of his first responsibility and deal with whatever he wasn’t expecting.


— Tends to live on a straight line in pursuit; occasionally, he’ll get waylaid by bigger guys whomping him from the side.

— Can cover tight ends up the seam, but he’s better near the line of scrimmage. More a true linebacker than a big safety.

— Hell-bent style of play will occasionally have him whiffing mightily in the open field.

— Decent recovery speed for his position, but he really needs to be on his target from the snap.

— Gets his tackles in the backfield more from quickness and gap understanding than pure power; he’s not your ideal guy for “Jacked Up!” highlights.

If you like Frankie Luvu as a hyper-versatile linebacker (and if you don’t, what the heck is wrong with you?), Wilson profiles very much the same way as a true three-down ‘backer in any scheme. There isn’t much he can’t do, and as much as anybody in this class, he personifies the modern linebacker who can take half the field over, and is a credible problem for opposing offenses in multiple ways.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire