2020 NFL Draft | Zack Baun: productive and disruptive

03/11/2020
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It’s not every day that a player goes from playing quarterback to sacking them. For Zack Baun, that’s exactly what happened. Coming out of Brown Deer High School in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, he was listed as an athlete. During his time in high school, he played quarterback and was quite productive. So much that he won offensive player of the year for the state of Wisconsin during his senior season.

With over 3,700 total yards (rushing and passing) and 59 total touchdowns (20 passing and 39 rushing), it’s no wonder that he won the award. According to 24/7 Sports, he was listed as a three-star recruit and only had one college offer from South Dakota State. One day, that all changed when Wisconsin had offered him a scholarship. Without question, he jumped at the opportunity and quickly, the Badgers realized that they had player that could develop into a defensive playmaker.

Despite having a foot injury that cost him the 2017 season, he’s bounced back nicely. Over the last two seasons, he’s recorded 15 sacks, 140 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. Like I mentioned, he went from being a playmaker on offense to becoming a versatile defensive weapon for the Badgers. With his production and disruptiveness, it’s no surprise to see him earn the name “Sack Baun.”

Dip and rip move 

One of the most common moves you’ll see from Baun is the dip-and-rip move. He has shown his ability to rush from a variety of ways but without question, this is the most common way that he pressures the quarterback and gets into the backfield. According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), he had 57 pressures in 2019 (tied for seventh best in NCAA).

On the play above, you’ll see the offensive tackle expose his chest. Right off the snap, Baun creates separation with his inside hand. Once his inside hand is placed on the chest plate, he dips his shoulder down and rips through while running-the-arc and getting a hit on the quarterback. In the process of the entire play, look at how fluid he looks through the entire rep. He has such a natural feel when executing this pass rush and it’s going to lead to plenty of success at the next level.

Patience and bending down the LOS 

Certainly, Baun will make money as a pass rusher but it’s important to see what he can provide when stopping the run. There’s no doubt that he can help in stopping the run and it’s big reason to why he had 19.5 tackles for loss this past season.

On the play above, you can see where Baun plays patient at the line-of-scrimmage (LOS). He stays square to the backfield, reads the exchange between the running back and quarterback and then he reacts. This leads to him bending down the line-of-scrimmage and making the tackle.

Inside counter leads to pressure

Having an effective inside pass rush can make an edge rusher more than just good — it can make them great. For  Baun, he still has some more refinement needed to be considered a great edge rusher. Fortunately, he’s good and can be effective when rushing outside or inside.

On the play above, Baun will show an initial pass rush towards the outside. As the left tackle is in the process of his third step in his kick-slide with his set foot, Baun perfectly times his inside rush. He gives a head fake and explodes off his outside foot to cross the face of the left tackle. This forces the left tackle to lunge and shoot his hands but Baun already has the rep won. Just to keep the pressure on the quarterback, he chops down on the hands of the left tackle and ensures that he’s able to suffocate the pocket with some type of pressure.

 

Double swipe for the sack

One of my favorite pass rush moves is the double swipe and it’s a move that Baun executes with ease. His hand movements are fluid and fast. Beyond just that, he has a natural feel on how to defeat a block. Plenty of times on film, he wins by using the double swipe move.

On the play above, Baun aligns as a 9-technique and on the outside shoulder of the tight end. Off the snap, he plays with good pad level and shows how he has a natural feel on the block by the tight end. Once the tight end attempts to shoot his hands, Baun quickly swipes both hands away and flattens toward the quarterback. The quickness and hip flexibility will be intriguing to plenty of teams looking for an effective pass rusher off the edge.

Final thoughts

During his last season with the Badgers, he tallied 12.5 sacks. He did so with his athleticism, good hand usage and solid motor. The more you watch of him, the more you can see that he understands the nuances that come with being an effective edge rusher: Whether it’s with his pad level or his ability to flip his hips. Whatever it might be, he’s been effective and disruptive for the Badgers over the last two seasons. He’ll struggle against stronger offensive linemen and will certainly face hard times against offensive linemen with a longer reach.

Despite lacking ideal length for the position, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t come into the league and be a day one contributor. He’s a more natural pass rusher than run stopper but he can contribute in both areas. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him drop into coverage to have mid-hook or curl/flats responsibility with his athletic ability. Keep in mind, he did cause two fumbles, an interception and two pass deflections during the 2019 season.

On my draft board, Baun earned an early Round 2 grade but he should certainly be in the conversation for the first round. Even though he’s limited with length, teams will be sold on the production, athletic ability and the hand speed/effectiveness off the edge. It wouldn’t be surprising if teams such as the Baltimore Ravens or Green Bay Packers considered the productive and disruptive edge rusher out of Wisconsin.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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