Zack Baun has had one of the more interesting career paths of any Badger in recent memory. An accomplished athlete in high school, Baun played quarterback, and became one of the most prolific rushing threats in the state. Initially a walk-on offer from then-coach Gary Andersen, he was upgraded to a scholarship player by Paul Chryst. After a redshirt season, Baun found his way on the field in 2016 at outside linebacker with Vince Biegel, T.J. Watt and Garret Dooley. However, a foot injury forced him to sit out 2017 and in 2018 he was a nice player on a down Wisconsin defense.
In 2019, Baun broke out, registering 76 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Badgers jumped from 18 sacks as a team in 2018 to 50 in 2019, and Baun was a huge reason why. A legitimate game wrecker at times this past season, Baun’s ability to rush the passer and play in space as an apex player makes him an incredibly enticing prospect at the next level.
At the Senior Bowl, Baun said he thinks he can make a similar transition to the NFL as former teammate Joe Schobert. Schobert went pick No. 99, first in the fourth round in the 2016 NFL Draft. Baun could go about 60-70 picks before that.
Weight: 238 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds
Vertical jump: 32.5” inches
Broad jump: 115” inches (9’7”)
Short shuttle: 4.31*, 4.08** seconds
Three-cone drill: 7.00 seconds*
Bench press: 24 reps
*workout numbers from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis
**workout numbers from UW’s Pro Day, held Wednesday, March 11th
Strengths: Baun is a very fluid athlete for the linebacker position. Good size for an off-ball linebacker. Shows the ability to set the edge on the front side of run plays, but is most effective knifing through the backside of zone runs. Developed repertoire of pass rush moves, and exhibits a pass rush plan. Has shown the ability to drop in zone coverage. Has also shown the ability to stick with backs out of the backfield.
Weaknesses: Likely will have to switch positions in the NFL. Little to no experience (Senior Bowl) playing as an off-ball linebacker. Doesn’t have elite twitch or explosiveness to threaten NFL offensive tackles. Will be undersized in those situations.
Summary: Baun really burst onto the scene as a senior, and has continued to fly up draft boards as the season went along. While he’s a bit of a tweener as far as an NFL “position” (too small to play 3-4 EDGE like he did at Wisconsin, inexperienced as an off-ball linebacker), he’s got a transferable skill set and a trait (pass rush) that can translate regardless of scheme or where he ends up playing on base downs.
While he lacks the athletic upside of a T.J. Watt, I think he’s more refined as a player, and if he ends up in a defensive scheme with a creative defensive coordinator, his skills can be optimized.
Ideal Scheme Fit: 4-3 Sam Linebacker on base downs, Pass-rusher in sub packages (early-career Von Miller role)
Projected Round: Late Round 1-early-to-mid Round 2