2024 Atlanta Falcons Potential Draft Pick Profile: LB Payton Wilson

Payton Wilson could be a monster in the new Atlanta Falcons scheme with Raheem Morris in charge.
Clemson v NC State
Clemson v NC State / Lance King/GettyImages
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If the Atlanta Falcons want a true defensive captain to lead them to the next level on that side of the ball, Payton Wilson would be a surprising addition, but a welcome one. Wilson is a do-it-all linebacker that could beat out Troy Andersen and Nate Landman for a starting linebacker role next to Kaden Elliss in 2024 and beyond. Wilson's only real questions come from his injury issues throughout his college career. The former leader of the Wolfpack defense could instantly be an upgrade for the Falcons in the middle of their defense.

Payton Wilson

North Carolina State University

Linebacker


Athletic Comparison and Numbers

Athletically, Payton Wilson is one of the best players in the draft at his position. He's highly comparable to Fred Warner in this aspect—as well as others—and uses it to his advantage when he's terrorizing offenses. Wilson has ridiculous speed for a linebacker that's required in today's game, and plays faster than his athletic testing would suggest. The combination of natural athleticism and instincts will take him far and make him a 10-plus year starter in the NFL if he can stay healthy.


Stats and Awards

2023: 12 Games Played, 138 Tackles, 17.5 Tackles for Loss, 6.0 Sacks, 10 QB Hurries, 3 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Forced, 6 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown, 1 Carry, 3 Yards, First-Team All-American, Butkis Award Winner, Bednarik Award Winner, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski Award Finalist, First-Team All-ACC
2022: 11 Games Played, 82 Tackles, 12.5 Tackles for Loss, 4.5 Sacks, 7 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 3 Pass Deflections, Co-Iron Wolf Award Winner
2021: 2 Games Played, 5 Tackles, 1.5 Tackles for Loss, 1.0 Sack, Redshirted again after two games due to a shoulder injury
2020: 10 Games Played, 108 Tackles, 11.5 Tackles for Loss, 3.5 Sacks, 6 QB Hurries, 2 Interceptions, 1 Pass Deflection, First-Team All-ACC
2019: 11 Games Played, 69 Tackles, 5.0 Tackles for Loss, 1 QB Hurry, 1 Interception, 3 Pass Deflections, 1 Carry, 9 Yards
2018: Redshirted due to a knee injury suffered in summer practices


Highlight Reel


Scouting Report

Strengths

Payton Wilson has prototype size and speed for the position and can cover sideline-to-sideline versus the pass or run. He's highly intelligent on the field and can cover at all three levels of the field which could be useful for teams that run a lot of Tampa 2 concepts. He's a heat-seeking missile to the ball and can hit hard. A wrap-up tackler who consistently takes down his guy, Wilson utilizes this when he's blitzing to wrap up the quarterback and contribute to the pass rush. His speed when attacking the gap and running blitzing games is one of his biggest strength.

Weaknesses

Wilson's biggest weakness is that he needs to get stronger both functionally and to add on some weight to his frame. He's not close to maxed out and an NFL strength and nutrition program should add around 10 pounds and a lot of strength. Wilson needs to get more aggressive when taking off blockers as his block shedding could use a lot of work too. The biggest worry for Wilson is his injury history, though. He's had surgeries on both shoulders and injured his knee twice throughout his college career. If he can stay healthy and add strength to his frame, he will be even better in the NFL.


Intangibles & Off-Field Red Flags

Payton Wilson was a captain for the defense as both a junior and a senior. He showed that he has fantastic leadership later in his career for the Wolfpack. His non-stop motor comes from his time as a a Lacrosse player and wrestler in high school. His cardio is fantastic because both of those sports require the kind of non-stop motor NFL coaches want in their defenders. He also has been able to use the cross-training from those sports to improve his football game.

"Wilson, 19, was arrested at approximately 2 a.m. and charged with possession of a fake ID, underage consumption of alcohol, injury to personal property and resisting a public officer."

Brett Friedlander of SI.com

As reported by Brett Friedlander of SI.com, Wilson made a mistake at 19-years old where he got arrested for a few charges that caused a small suspension. Wilson issued a public apology and did his restitution and hasn't had an incident since. When players have off-field issues, it's not how major or minor they are, it's how they handle the aftermath of their situation. Wilson handled it the way a man should truly handle a mistake in their life.

NFL Stylistic Comparison: Fred Warner

Much like Fred Warner, Payton Wilson is an undersized, athletic coverage linebacker who is a team leader. Warner was an underrated linebacker coming out of college who wound up in a similar system to what the Falcons will be running. Wilson is going to be expected to take the next step to become a franchise middle linebacker the way Warner has. And in terms of raw talent, Wilson is right there with the best linebacker in the NFL, Fred Warner.


How does he fit in with the Atlanta Falcons

If the Falcons want to bring Payton Wilson into the fold, they would either have to luck out and have him slip to the third-round pick or take him in the second if they have him at the top of the board. Wilson would have to compete with Troy Andersen and Nate Landman for the starting role. However, he could easily win the job and be the guy because he's the perfect kind of linebacker in today's NFL. He would be a perfect fit for a middle linebacker and has a high-level of football intelligence that could let him call all the plays on defense.

All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of DraftScout.com and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.