The bulk of the New York Giants off-season moves have been to improve their defense. But despite signing a middle linebacker and an EDGE player, they still need more athleticism in the middle of the field and a consistent pass rushing “ace”.
There are players at the top of the draft who could fill needs on the defensive side of the ball, but the Giants might not be able to draft them. That brings us to the 36th overall pick at the top of the second round and Zack Baun out of Wisconsin.
The Giants already showed a strong interest in Baun, with outside linebackers’ coach Bret Bielema watching film and working with him at Wisconsin’s pro day. It has already been speculated that Baun will be transitioning to more of an off-ball role in the NFL, and the uncertainty surrounding this year’s draft could impact his draft stock. However, he is also a highly regarded prospect. How likely is it that he will be there for the Giants at the top of the second round?
Prospect: Zack Baun (LB, Wisconsin)
Games Watched: vs. Penn State (2018), vs. Illinois (2019), vs. Michigan State (2019), vs. South Florida (2019)
Red Flags: None
Games Played (starts): 34
Tackles For a loss: 30.5
Forced Fumbles: 3
Passes Defensed: 4
Games Played: 14
Tackles For a loss: 19.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 2
Best: Football IQ, technique, short-area quickness, explosiveness, motor
Worst: Long speed
Projection: A starting linebacker in a multiple front defense.
Wisconsin’s Zack Baun is an athletic linebacker prospect with very high football IQ and competitive toughness. Baun is capable of lining up at multiple positions in the defensive front seven. He was most frequently lined up as an EDGE in Wisconsin’s defense but also played snaps as an off-ball linebacker and was productive in both roles.
Baun shows a good combination of explosiveness, quickness, technique, and football IQ as a pass rusher. He shows a good get-off out of both two and three-point stances, with the ability to win with speed around the edge. Baun shows good technique, timing his hands and feet well, as well as showing very good hand usage to clear blockers. He has a good variety of pass rush moves, including a club-rip move, an arm-over, a long arm, and a two-hand swipe move. Baun has good lower-body flexibility and has the ability to carry speed around the edge and bend back to the quarterback. He also shows the ability to plan his rushes and when blockers overcompensate for his speed on the edge he quickly capitalizes with a very good inside move.
Baun shows good discipline as a run defender. He doesn’t over-pursue or over-run the play and take himself out of position. Likewise, he is also faithful to his assignments when defending option plays and trusts his teammates to execute their assignments.
Baun also shows upside when playing in space. He gets quickly gets depth on zone drops and is a smooth mover in space, including a good “click and close” transition between forward movement and a backpedal. Baun does a good job of staying aware of offensive players in his zone while also letting the quarterback lead him to the play. He has solid range and is a smooth mover for a linebacker, generally taking smart angles to the football. Baun is a solid tackler in all phases and can hit hard enough to separate the ball from the ball carrier.
Baun is a little undersized to routinely play as an EDGE in the NFL. He can be overpowered by offensive linemen, as well as have his rushes stall if a lineman is able to account for his technique or early speed. Baun will likely have to transition to more of an off-ball linebacker role in the NFL.
Overall Grade: 6.6 - Has above average traits in almost all areas and should be a starter as a rookie. Has a high ceiling but a position transition adds some uncertainty. [Grading Scale]
Zack Baun projects as a good starter as a versatile off-ball linebacker in a defensive front which blends and moves freely between 4-3 and 3-4 fronts and concepts. Baun has the potential to be a good pass rusher at the NFL level, but his size and build will make playing opposite NFL offensive tackles difficult on a regular basis.
That being said, his size, athleticism, and football IQ lend him an impressive versatility. That versatility should allow a defensive coordinator to disguise blitz schemes and create uncertainty and confusion on the offensive side of the ball.
Baun has an impressive football IQ, quickly recognizing offensive misdirection and play fakes as well as understanding concepts and combinations. He is able to make impressive plays in space as well as disrupt in the backfield with good, disciplined defense. Baun also shows very good competitive toughness in taking on bigger blockers and a white-hot motor to never give up on a play and pursue across the field. Those traits, as well as his athleticism, offer encouragement that a transition to a more varied role will be successful.
There is some uncertainty any time a prospect is going to be asked to transition from a collegiate position to another position at the NFL level and a team will need a definite plan for how they will use Baun. They absolutely should use his down-hill acumen as a pass rusher or blitzer, as well as let him make plays in space or pursuit. However, a team should also recognize his limitations and not ask him to cover particularly athletic tight ends, running backs, and receivers, or give him too much field to cover.
If a team is able to execute that plan and pull off the transition from EDGE to off-ball linebacker, they should be rewarded with a good starter with the upside to impact all areas of the offense.