The New Orleans Saints have a clear vision for their new linebacker Zack Baun, who was drafted at 74th overall after a trade was made with the Cleveland Browns. Many viewed him as a potential first-round pick, and was one of the Top 40 players the Saints had on their board.
General manager Mickey Loomis admitted on Friday evening that the Saints were active on the phones trying to trade up, saying that they had called every team ahead of them to try to make a deal. They called all the way up to No. 33 that was held by the Bengals, but ultimately didn't have enough resources. New Orleans was patient, and ended up getting three players that were in their Top 40 draft board. One of those, Baun, filled a big need at linebacker.
Sean Payton was pleased with how things played out, saying that the Saints were able to identify and fill some needs without reaching. He views the Wisconsin product at middle (MIKE) or strong side (SAM) linebacker, and that versatility that the Saints so highly covet is something Baun brings to the table.
"Oh my God. There isn't any other place I'd rather be," Baun said on Friday night.
Baun said that he had a formal interview with the Saints at the Senior Bowl game, and then an informal one at the NFL Combine. He now sees himself in a perfect, ideal situation with the Saints.
"I obviously am most comfortable on the edge. That's where I spent all my time in college. But I really just consider myself a linebacker that can do a lot of different things and I think my versatility is my biggest attribute and my biggest asset. I played outside linebacker mostly on the line. I got to do a lot of things in college, rushed the passer and dropped in coverage."
Baun, who is actually represented by the same agent as Marcus Davenport (CAA Sports) had a foot injury back in 2017, and he's been pretty clean since then. He also has ties with teammate Ryan Ramczyk, but hadn't reached out to him just yet. However, that'll quickly change. The connections also continue for Baun, as he actually trained some with Cesar Ruiz at EXOS in Phoenix, who the Saints drafted at 24th overall on the first night of the draft.
Some viewed Baun as a first-round prospect, but he ended up falling down the draft board. He suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for the 2017 season, but hasn't had any flare-ups since then. He was puzzled from slipping, but it didn't matter at the end.
“I really don't have any idea and as a matter of fact, I don't really care what the reason was, but I'm just so happy to have gotten picked and fulfill a lifelong dream," Baun said.
"I've been completely clean for a while. I had an injury back in 2017 that put me out for the season, but since then I’ve played two seasons. I couldn't come up with an answer to why I fell as far as I did. But like I said, nonetheless excited and childhood dream fulfilled.”
When asked, Baun was quick to bring up a couple of pass-rushers that he studies, which included Dee Ford and former Badger T.J. Watt. Watt was singled out as someone who really guided him through the process.
"He helped me out with a lot. He would shoot me different pass rush clips. Hey, I think this could work, this looks like it's in your wheelhouse and just evolving my game and I understand I can't do a lot of things that the 6-5, 260 pound D-ends do, but I can take bits and pieces of a lot of different people's game and implement them into mine and make my own style.”
The Saints are entering the final day of the draft without a pick, and the team is okay with that. In turn, they'll focus their efforts and attention on filling remaining needs through undrafted rookie free agents.