Payton Wilson could end up being a total steal for the Steelers

NFL Combine
NFL Combine / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a need at off-ball linebacker this year, and Omar Khan delivered as only he could. After poaching Pro Bowl LB Patrick Queen from the Baltimore Ravens in free agency, Khan found a way to add arguably the best linebacker in college football to the Steelers roster.

With the 98th overall pick in the third round of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Payton Wilson. The former NC State linebacker had a remarkable season in 2023. In 12 games, Wilson recorded 138 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 6.0 sacks, 3 interceptions, 6 pass breakups, and a defensive touchdown, per Sports Reference.

In addition to jaw-dropping statistics, Wilson graded out as the 8th-best linebacker in the country among 777 qualifying players, per Pro Football Focus. His 89.8 overall grade and 90.4 coverage grade both ranked among the best in college football.

But there's a reason nearly one-hundred players were selected before him in the NFL Draft.

Dating back to high school, Wilson has sustained multiple significant injuries to his knees. The productive linebacker was flagged medically during the pre-draft process and it was later revealed during the draft that he has been playing football without an ACL in one knee.

This didn't stop Wilson from running a 4.43 official 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and you would never be able to notice this on tape. While his injury history is cause for concern, the Steelers could be getting the steal of the draft if he stays healthy.

Steelers may have found the steal of the 2024 draft

Early in Steelers OTAs, Patrick Queen spoke highly of Payton Wilson's intelligence, per Aaron Becker of Yardbarker, and the way he carries himself. Wilson has turned heads already and is catching on quickly.

A collection of factors could help him turn out to be one of the best linebackers in football if he can avoid the injury bug. In addition to his instincts and nose for the football, Wilson is an uber-athletic linebacker with a nearly 6'4'' frame. You just don't see many linebackers who can run and cover at this size in today's game.

Though Wilson isn't elite at stacking and shedding blocks, he can slip blocks and use his speed and agility to get around blockers as well as anyone I've graded at the collegiate level entering the draft.

The combination of size, athletic traits, production, and college performance would have made Wilson a first-round pick if he was two years younger with two fewer knee injuries.

However, it's because of his injury history that the Pittsburgh Steelers ever had a chance to land him with the 98th overall pick. Payton Wilson will be a 24-year-old rookie, but he possesses incredible upside thanks to his rare collection of traits. If he stays healthy, I fully expect him to be a total steal for the Steelers.