Over the course of the next several weeks, the Seahawks and 31 other teams will be evaluating the latest crop of incoming talent in preparation for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Up next in our prospect profiles series, the Seahawks still need help rushing the passer. With versatility becoming more and more important in today's NFL, Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun could turn up the heat off the edge and also improve Seattle's coverage at multiple linebacker spots.
A twitched-up athlete off the edge, Baun has the burst to rocket past tackles and quickly turn the corner to hunt down opposing quarterbacks. He also plays with a red-hot motor at all times, which allows him to get second-effort sacks even when he's initially stifled by blockers at the point of attack.
Though lacking ideal length (32 3/4-inch arms) as an edge defender against the run, Baun mitigates those concerns with fast hands to swiftly shed blocks. Along with being able to wreak havoc in the backfield, he has the tracking speed to run down ball carriers sideline-to-sideline, consistently takes sound pursuit angles, and brings the hammer as a tackler.
A former high school quarterback, Baun possesses a very high football IQ, which has served him well in coverage as a linebacker. Per Pro Football Focus, on 195 coverage snaps, he posted a 91.1 coverage grade over the past two seasons. He moves fluidly dropping into his zone and has the athletic traits to cover running backs and tight ends in the passing game.
After not playing defense in high school, Baun's quarterback background also allowed him to quickly transition to linebacker upon his arrival at Wisconsin. He should be able to play any of the three linebacker positions at the next level while also offering the ability to rush off the edge in passing situations, making him one of the most versatile chess pieces in this draft class.
Weighing less than 240 pounds, Baun has the look of a "tweener" who may have a difficult time finding the right positional fit in the NFL. Teams looking for a full-time edge rusher may be better suited to look elsewhere given his size and lack of length.
Though he broke out as a pass rusher and has the speed off the edge to beat opposing tackles at the next level, Baun's counter moves remain a major work in progress. He won a lot of battles in the Big Ten on athleticism and effort alone, but to emerge as a legit NFL pass rusher at 238 pounds, he will have to become more proficient from a technical standpoint.
Baun plays the game at a frenetic pace, and while that works in his favor much of the time, it also creates some unnecessary issues for him. He has a tendency to occasionally go for the big hit in open space when he shouldn't and has been prone to lapses in tackling form, while he also can panic and get a bit grabby in coverage.
Whether fair or not, Baun only had one season of elite production for the Badgers, which could spook some interested teams. He redshirt in 2015 and then a foot injury cost him the entire 2017 season, limiting him to just 20 games and 2.5 sacks in his first four years on campus.
Where He Fits in Seattle
Since Jadeveon Clowney remains unsigned, the Seahawks greatest need remains finding a an elite, every down defensive end who can also rush the passer. At his size, Baun won't be replacing Clowney's role, but that doesn't mean he won't be under consideration as a possible first round selection.
Even at 238 pounds, Baun rushed the passer successfully against top-tier tackles in the rugged Big Ten each week. If Shaquem Griffin can find some success rushing off the edge in the NFL, there's no question the former All-American could find his niche in Seattle.
More importantly, Baun would provide immense flexibility for Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. due to his versatility. He could play SAM linebacker when the Seahawks were in base and slide to the LEO defensive end spot in wide-9 alignment in passing situations to pin his ears back chasing down quarterbacks.
As with all rookies, Baun would have to earn his way onto the field in Seattle. But considering the team's need for pass rushing reinforcements and Carroll's desire for versatility in coverage, he should be one of their top targets at pick No. 27.