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Road to the Draft: Catching eyes in Indy, Payton Wilson is driven to become 'the best in the world' 

Linebacker Payton Wilson might be the most athletic defender in this year's draft, excelling at several other sports before settling on football.

He grew up playing baseball with his brother Bryse, who is now a major league pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. He was also a state champion wrestler at Orange High School in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Despite the multi-sport athlete deciding to hone in on football at North Carolina State University, wrestling since the age of four helped him on the gridiron.

"Wrestling instills a lot into you just when it comes to football itself," Wilson said at the Combine. "In hand fighting, if I get my hands on you, you're coming to the ground and it helps you understand leverage and torque. But wrestling is different. In football when you mess up, there's 10 other guys to help you out. But in wrestling you mess up, you're going on top of your head and you're getting embarrassed in front of your mom, your dad and your friends."

His first three seasons at NC State were a bit rocky, according to Wilson. While he showed flashes during his freshman and sophomore seasons, he played through various injuries that prevented him from being at his best. However after a COVID season in 2021, he proved to the nation that the injuries couldn't literally, or metaphorically, slow him down.

With 138 total tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and three interceptions, Wilson was the 2023 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and won the Chuck Bednarik Award given to the best defensive player in college football.

At the NFL Combine, Wilson confirmed he met with the Raiders at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, plus had a successful meeting in Indianapolis with the staff and Antonio Pierce, a former NFL linebacker himself. It's also worth nothing that new Raiders general manager Tom Telesco drafted a linebacker in nine of the 11 seasons he was the general manager with the Chargers.

Early projections have Wilson going in the second or third round, but his draft stock may be on the rise after his showing during drills Thursday night. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash of all linebackers (4.43) and tied for the fastest 10-yard split (1.54) in his position group as well.

No matter where he goes or at which pick, what does he envision bringing to an NFL team? 

"I grew up on a farm in a small town with 9,000 people, so whoever I met [on the field] I want to prove I'm the bigger man, the stronger man and if you beat me, I'm coming back 100 times over," said Wilson. "We're going to go until I win. That's just my mentality. I want to be the best on the field, be the best in the world. That's something my parents instilled in me, my coaches at NC State instilled in me. I just love this game so much."

Take a look back at current Raiders' appearances at past NFL Scouting Combines.

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