NC State’s Payton Wilson could be a great Demario Davis understudy

How important is it for the New Orleans Saints to spend a high draft pick on a linebacker this year? With Demario Davis being the oldest linebacker in the NFL and Pete Werner’s development stalling out — while Zack Baun has a good chance at leaving for a better scheme fit in free agency — you could rank it pretty high among the team’s needs. Davis is entering a contract year, too.

Enter Payton Wilson: arguably the most experienced linebacker in the draft, who is confident he’s this year’s best athlete, too. He’ll have an opportunity to prove it when the linebackers go through speed and agility drills on Thursday night at the NFL Scouting Combine.

But Wilson credits his college success to developing his understanding of the game, and he knows there’s still plenty he needs to learn. When he turns pro, he hopes to find a mentor and soak up every lesson he can like a sponge. We’ll let him tell it.

“I’m going into a whole different world where I’m going to play against literally the smartest players to ever play the game,” Wilson said Wednesday during his media availability session. “Whenever I get to an NFL team I’m going to find the closest vet that I can to me, I’m going to model my routine after them. I’m going to get in the film room with them every single day. I don’t believe you can play fast until you know what’s going on. I personally believe once I know the defense like the back of my hand and my football IQ is where it needs to be, I can be one of the best.”

And there are few better veterans to learn from than Davis. The two-time Pro Bowler and frequent All-Pro linebacker has enjoyed more success in the back half of his career after coming to New Orleans and thriving in Dennis Allen’s defense. Wilson, who weighed in at 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds, sure sounds like a worthy protege after overcoming adversity with a couple of injuries.

Wilson persevered through two ACL tears (one in high school, another at NC State) and shoulder surgery (in 2022), but his medical checks at the combine came back clean and he says feedback from NFL teams was positive. He’s currently seen as someone who could be picked in the second round but his stock could rise through the pre-draft process.

In his career, Wilson has logged more than 2,400 snaps across 47 games for the Wolfpack while recording 48 tackles for loss and intercepting seven passes. And he was recognized as the recipient of the Butkus Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award after his 2023 senior season. He has all the ability in the world, and he’s hoping to land in the right situation to cultivate it in the NFL. Learning from Davis might be the best fit for him.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire