The University of Wisconsin football team cranks out NFL-caliber players at an above-average level compared to other teams in college football, particularly the Big Ten. Linebacker Zack Baun is one of those players, as he’ll look to get drafted in April’s NFL Draft.
Even with the cancellation of sporting events around the world, the NFL Draft will (presumably) go on in late April, with reports saying the event will be held as some sort of “studio production” with cut-ins from NFL team headquarters during their selections.
Baun entered Wisconsin in 2015 as a three-star athlete from Milwaukee, Wisconsin out of Brown Deer High School, where he started at quarterback. Baun stood at 6 feet 3 inches and 205 pounds as he entered college, but he has beefed up to nearly 240 pounds during his time with Wisconsin, transitioning to a linebacker in college.
Baun posted impressive numbers across 39 games, including 27 starts, in just over three full seasons with the Badgers. He blossomed into one of the best linebackers in college football in 2019, leading the team in sacks (12.5), solo tackles (53), tackles for a loss (19.5) and quarterback hits (10) across 14 starts en route to first-team All-Big Ten and first-team All-America status.
While Baun posted similar stats to fellow senior and roommate Chris Orr, he is projected to be a better fit in the NFL due to his larger size — Orr stands at just 6 feet 0 inches and 225 pounds — and his overall athleticism.
With the NFL Draft only a month away, let’s take a look at Zack Baun’s draft stock.
Baun’s biggest strengths heading into the draft are his athleticism and explosiveness. Baun showed in 2019 just how versatile he can be, as he has the ability to put a quarterback under pressure, chase down a running back and guard the open receiver.
In addition to his athleticism, Baun displayed a high football IQ during the 2019 season, following the football at an above-average level, particularly against difficult offensive opponents in Minnesota and The Ohio State University.
While Baun is roughly the right size for an NFL linebacker, he is slightly smaller than the average edge rusher in the NFL, meaning he will need to bulk up a little more before he begins his NFL career. He has also struggled at times with open-field tackles, making him a better fit for teams in need of a linebacker who can put pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Baun’s player comparisons include two familiar faces to Wisconsin natives — former Badger T.J. Watt and former Green Bay Packer Clay Matthews. In college, Baun has excelled as a blitzer, consistently putting quarterbacks under pressure. Like Baun, Watt and Matthews had success as blitzers in college and translated those talents into their NFL careers, as each has won at least one All-Pro selection.
At the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Baun put up fairly average numbers compared to the other linebacker invites. He finished tied for 13th of 30 linebackers in the 40-yard dash (4.65 seconds), third of 27 in the bench press (24 reps of 225 pounds), 19th of 31 in the vertical jump (32.5 inches), 27th of 31 in the broad jump (115 inches), fifth of 18 in the 3-cone drill (7.00 seconds) and 10th of 19 in the 20-yard shuttle (4.31 seconds).
His career at Wisconsin and his performance at the combine places him as one of the top linebackers entering the draft. He currently ranks as the No. 2 outside linebacker by ESPN, the No. 4 edge rusher by The Draft Network, the No. 4 linebacker by CBS Sports and the No. 4 linebacker by Bleacher Report.
In NFL mock drafts from Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, the NFL, 247 Sports, Sports Illustrated and The Draft Wire, Baun is projected as being a late first-round or early second-round pick. For comparison’s sake, Watt was taken with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and Matthews was taken with the No. 26 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
With that in mind, watch for Baun’s name to be called late on day one of the draft (round one) or early on day two (rounds two-four) of April’s NFL Draft.
Draft Projection: Late 1st Round-Early 2nd Round