It’s appropriate that the NFL is holding its biggest offseason event within walking distance of a casino in downtown Detroit.

That’s because its annual draft of college talent is such a crapshoot.

No matter how much advance scouting a team does, no matter how many 40s a player runs or how prepared coaches and general managers think they are, every pick is a gamble. Put your money down on red or black, spin the wheel and hope for the best.

For every Peyton Manning that comes up aces, there’s a 50-50 chance you’re going to end up with a joker like Ryan Leaf on the very next pick.

And most likely, it will cost you your job.

Still, some picks are riskier than others. In this draft, no one presents more of a risk/reward proposition than NC State linebacker Payton Wilson.

All things being equal, the Butkus and Bednarik Award winner would almost certainly have been taken in the 1st round on Thursday. He’s a highly-motivated 6-foot-4, 230-pound bundle of energy, a full range of skills and a knack for being around the ball on virtually every play.

Think Luke Kuechly.

He’s as adept at getting into the backfield and laying a big hit on a quarterback or ballcarrier as running down the speediest receiver in the open field, as he did to Notre Dame’s Chris Tyree last season.

An NFL coach, interviewed by The Athletic as part of an anonymous survey evaluating various draft prospects, described Wilson as someone who “plays like his hair’s on fire.”

He meant that as a compliment.

But at the same time, that relentless style – combined with Wilson’s extensive medical history – is also one of the primary reasons why the nation’s best college linebacker lasted until the 3rd-to-last pick in the 3rd round, where the Pittsburgh Steelers took him with the 98th overall pick on Friday.

Wilson missed his senior season in high school and freshman season at NC State because of multiple knee surgeries. He missed all but the 1st 2 games in 2021 because of a shoulder issue that also required surgery.

That latest injury helped teach him the value of controlling his aggression and he managed to stay healthy enough to play in all but 1 game over his final 2 college seasons. But because the season is longer and the players are bigger and stronger in the NFL, questions about his durability remain.

“He doesn’t have an ACL in his right knee,” the coach interviewed by The Athletic said. “You’ve got to expect that he’s only playing 1 contract. Anything you get more than that is a bonus.”

That possibility clearly scared off a lot of teams early in the draft.

And that’s understandable.

Under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, all 1st-round picks are given 4-year guaranteed contracts with a club option for a 5th year. They’re slotted on a graded scale from $38.54 million for No. 1 overall to $12.14 million for No. 32.

Investing that kind of money into a player who may or may not make it through the length of the deal is a little like making a long-distance trip in a borrowed car with bald tires. You hope you’re going to make it to your destination in one piece. But you have to hold your breath and hope for the best the entire way.

Wilson’s longevity is just as much of a question mark as a late 3rd-round pick. But at a salary slot of just $5.58 million, taking him there is much less of a gamble. It becomes the very definition of the term “value pick.”

If he’s able to stay healthy and give the Steelers the kind of production and leadership he displayed in earning ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, he’ll turn out to be the steal of this year’s draft.

That in itself should be motivation enough to succeed.

Not that Wilson is the type who needs an extra kick in the pants to excel.

He’s spent his entire athletic life battling to live up to the high standard set by his older brother Bryce, a Major League pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. And he’s spent his entire college career fighting to overcome physical adversity.

That experience has taught Wilson that playing the next play as if it could be your last is more than just a slogan posted on a locker room wall. It’s a reality he’s stared in the face more than once.

His gritty, hard-working approach to the game should fit right in with the persona of his new team, whose blue-collar personality and tradition of relentless, hard-hitting defenses is remarkably similar to that of NC State.

It may have taken 2 rounds longer than it should have or that he would have liked, but Wilson couldn’t have picked a better spot to start his NFL career and begin proving his detractors wrong. And the Steelers were just as lucky to have him fall into their lap so late in the 3rd round.

From this point on, they’re both playing with house money.