Zack Baun might be a fun toy for Atlanta’s defense
One team dubbed him “the toy.”
Another, the Atlanta Falcons, is interested in him because he’s an “all-around guy.”
He didn’t really dive into his current position until he got to college, yet he sat with studs like Chase Young and A.J. Epenesa on the Big Ten Conference’s sacks leaderboard.
That’s Zack Baun. He’s a man of many talents, and he knows it.
“I feel I do a lot of things well,” he said Feb. 27 at the NFL Combine. “I can drop into coverage. I can rush the passer. I just feel like my athleticism and my versatility is what I do best.”
The former University of Wisconsin linebacker formed his 2020 NFL Draft prospect portfolio around his malleability and what he could become. He projects as a late first-round pick.
Five years ago, during his senior year of high school, Baun won Wisconsin Offensive Player of the Year awards as a quarterback, although he said that term applies loosely.
“I think ‘quarterback,’ for me, is a very broad term, because I didn’t do much passing the ball in high school,” Baun said. “I ran the ball a lot.”
His athleticism stood out, as he sprinted for 39 touchdowns in his senior year alone.
Despite never exclusively playing defense before, he committed to outside linebacker as a Badger and improved each year. He posted 15 sacks, including 12.5 in 2019, during his final two seasons. According to scouting reports, his pass rushing skills are still developing.
“I can believe I’m here, with my attitude and my driven purposes,” Baun, 23, said. “I feel like everything in my life has been a risk. I was taking a risk transferring to Brown Deer (High School), taking a risk playing quarterback, taking a risk playing outside linebacker, when I had never even played defense in my life.
“But I knew with my hard work and my tenacity and willingness to get after it and be the best at whatever I’m doing, it’s a true competitive edge that’s helped me throughout.”
In college, he didn’t play much interior linebacker, but he said he’s willing to work at it. He experimented away from the ball at the Senior Bowl in January and has experience in pass coverage, where his physical gifts shorten his learning curve. He stands six-foot-two, weighs 238 pounds and runs a 4.65-second 40-yard dash.
“It’s something that I’m definitely comfortable doing and definitely willing to do,” Baun said about playing off-ball and defending the pass.
That’s also where his quarterback instincts come in.
“You have to be on point in your preparation,” Baun said. “If you narrow it down enough, you can anticipate a play before it happens, and you’re at such an advantage. There are definitely keys throughout the game that the offense is just giving you.”
Baun won’t be given anything at the next level, though — maybe not even his outside linebacker position. But his size-speed combo is tailor-made for the NFL, allowing him to line up at defensive end or middle linebacker.
And he’s certainly a nice toy for any team to have.