The New Orleans Saints used a 3rd round choice in the 2020 NFL Draft, the number 74 overall selection, on DE/LB Zack Baun from Wisconsin. Baun was mainly a defensive end in college but would convert to a linebacker with the Saints.
The cancellation of offseason team activities and preseason games slowed Baun's development in learning a new position as a rookie. He’d appear in 17 of the team’s 18 games, including playoffs, but mostly on special teams.
Baun was in on 82 snaps defensively during the 2020 regular season, just 8% of the defensive snaps. His highest rep count was 22 snaps on defense during the regular-season finale at Carolina.
Baun registered 15 tackles as a rookie, including one for a loss. He also played in 54% of the team’s special teams snaps. After 15 sacks, 27 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles over his final two collegiate seasons. Some considered Baun's rookie season a disappointment.
Remember that he was essentially learning a new position and didn't have any preseason games and an abbreviated offseason to develop. Now entering his second season, the Saints expect much more out of the 24-year-old Baun.
Baun was an outstanding edge rusher in college, so I expect him to be used in that capacity in some pass-rush packages.
Given his size, he's 6’2” and 238-Lbs, Baun is too small to be an every down defensive end.
New Orleans will continue to develop him at linebacker, expecting him to take over one of the outside spots alongside All-Pro LB Demario Davis.
Baun has the athleticism to match up with opposing tight ends or running backs out of the backfield in pass coverage. He has an excellent change of direction ability and natural fluidity for coverage duties but is inexperienced in zone drops.
Baun’s speed and rapid reaction give him excellent sideline-to-sideline range. He flows through traffic well in pursuit and shows terrific play diagnosis. He's a fundamentally sound tackler, with a great closing burst to the ball carrier. Despite being undersized as a defensive end, he has adequate upper body strength to take on blockers at the point of attack.
Because of the offseason losses of starters Kwon Alexander and Alex Anzalone, linebacker was a position of need. The Saints nabbed former Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner with a 2nd Round pick this spring but will need a bigger contribution from their 2020 third-round pick.
Zack Baun was projected as a late first-round pick entering the 2020 NFL Draft because of his athleticism, versatility, and disruptive ability. He basically had a red-shirt rookie year because he was learning a new position after a shortened offseason.
Baun will play a far bigger role for the New Orleans defense in 2021. His development alongside Demario Davis will be one of the major factors to how successful the Saints defense will be this upcoming season.
You can follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.
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