Why the Slide?: Zack Baun

Why the Slide?: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
By Charlie Campbell, @draftcampbell

Six years ago, we started a series of articles on why certain prospects went undrafted. In that series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. We got a lot of positive reader feedback about the series, so we decided to expand in the genre to investigate why some prospects slid in the draft. Four years ago, we started the Why the Slide? series, and this year it is back. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

During a lot of the leadup to the 2020 NFL Draft, many mock drafts had Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun being a first-round pick. In a Hot Press entry from late March, WalterFootball.com reported that sources at a handful of teams did not have a consensus projection of Baun in the first round and those team contacts thought he belonged on Day 2. Still, Baun was commonly mocked in the first round by the draft media after recording 12.5 sacks in 2019. Thus, many were surprised when Baun slid to the second day of the 2020 NFL Draft and into the third round before being selected.

In speaking to team sources, there were a number of issues that caused Baun to slide. First of all, a lot of teams did not see him as a first-round talent. At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds Baun has some size limitations as an edge rusher for the NFL, and teams felt that rushing the passer was what Baun did best. The second issue that hurt Baun was diluted drug test from the combine. Lastly, he was viewed as a tweener by some. They felt he would have to be an off-the-ball linebacker in a 4-3 or an inside linebacker in a 3-4, but neither of those positions fits what Baun does best, rushing the quarterback. Some sources said Baun’s fit and issues were similar to what has led to Kamalei Correa not finding a proper role in the NFL after being a second-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2016.

The New Orleans Saints ended Baun’s fall in the third round, and New Orleans is an interesting landing spot for him. For years, the Saints have been looking for a steady pass-rushing complement to Cam Jordan, and Baun could offer them an option to line up on the other side from Jordan to hunt the quarterback. New Orleans also was in need of some linebacker depth and competition. Baun could compete with Alex Anzalone to be the starting Sam – strong side – linebacker. Anzalone is a solid player when healthy, but he has a very hard time staying healthy, so Baun could end up playing even if Anzalone beats him out. Baun will also have to transition to being a traditional linebacker who rushes in the sub package. It will be interesting to see if he can master that role and be effective for the Saints, or perhaps the tweener issues will lead to Baun not fitting in the NFL, similar to Correa.

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