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NC State Player Spotlight: Payton Wilson

NC State Payton Wilson

The NC State defense is notorious for being one of the best units in the country. As a whole, they allow just 20.2 points per game and have held teams like Miami and Louisville to six and 10 points respectively. No player has made as much of a positive impact as Payton Wilson, who has been named a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award and was a midseason All-American.

Payton Wilson’s History at NC State

Wilson arrived on campus in 2018 but did not play that season due to injury. In 2019, he appeared in 11 games and showed his versatility as a linebacker. Wilson amassed 69 tackles, five for a loss and an interception. Under the wing of Drake Thomas, Wilson developed into an elite linebacker in 2020. That season saw Wilson tally 108 tackles, 11.5 for losses, 3.5 sacks, and two more interceptions. In his first two seasons, Wilson had cemented himself as one of the best linebackers in the ACC.

Unfortunately, his 2021 season ended after just two games due to injury. He was able to recover fully for 2022, a season in which he and Thomas led an outstanding linebacking core for NC State. Wilson had 82 tackles, 12.5 for losses and 4.5 sacks. He made the decision to return for his 2023 season and has been an electric playmaker all year.

NC State Player Spotlight: Payton Wilson

Payton Wilson’s Performance in 2023

Wilson has dominated at all levels of the game. He leads the Wolfpack and the entire ACC with 138 tackles. Wilson also has 18 tackles for loss, which also leads the entire conference. He makes plays in both the pass and the run game and is the captain and leader of the Wolfpack defense. He has six sacks, while also adding three interceptions and six pass defenses. Of the three interceptions, one was returned for a pick-six against Clemson to seal the game. He had the second most sacks and tied for the most interceptions on the entire team despite playing the linebacker position.

The biggest question for the Wolfpack at the beginning of the year was how well they would replace lost linebacker production. Thomas and Isaiah Moore left for the NFL, leaving a gaping hole in the position. However, Wilson’s performance has alleviated that concern. In nearly every game, he has made plays that have been impactful. Wilson has 10 or more tackles in all but three games and has participated in a tackle for loss in every contest.

Payton Wilson’s Future Outlook

Unfortunately for Wolfpack fans, the bowl game will be the last time they see Wilson wearing the red and white. He is a fifth-year senior who has played impactful snaps in all five of his seasons at NC State. In 2021, his season only lasted two games before he suffered a season-ending injury. Despite that one injury, Wilson has appeared in 47 games for the Wolfpack. His 402 career tackles is the fourth most in ACC history, and he has the conference’s third most tackles for loss with 48. Wilson also left his mark in his final game at Carter-Finley Stadium against rival UNC. He recorded 15 total tackles, two for losses, a sack, and a late-game interception. Wilson also forced a fumble, giving a poetic ending to one of the best linebacker careers that the Wolfpack have ever had.

Wilson’s career has been phenomenal and he is likely to win the Dick Butkus Award for the best linebacker in the country. He is also a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy given to the nation’s defensive player of the year. Yet he does not have the draft stock of some other linebackers. Wilson’s injury history is a factor that teams will assess, but his age is more important. Wilson will turn 26 before draft day, making him one of the oldest prospects in the draft.

The Draft

Despite his age and injury history, Wilson is one of the best linebackers in college football. He has shown the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline and be a force in both the pass rush and in coverage. He is a smart player and a leader, as he is a captain from the middle linebacker position. His dynamic ability to play all over the field will be admired by NFL scouts, and whichever team selects him will get a pro-ready, experienced linebacker prospect.

Wilson will likely fall late into day two or will likely be one of the first day three prospects selected. However, if he does win the Dick Butkus Award and impresses at the Combine, Wilson could rise to the second round if a team likes his on-field abilities.


Photo courtesy:  Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports



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