Going into the NFL Draft, most expected the New Orleans Saints to add a linebacker to play alongside Demario Davis. While the Saints first round pick of Michigan interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz was a shock to come, the Saints did end up bolstering the linebacking corps by adding the versatile Wisconsin Badger linebacker Zack Baun.
The biggest thing that Baun brings to the Saints linebacking room is versatility. Primarily used as a pass rusher in his two years starting in Madison, Baun still played roughly a quarter of his passing snaps in coverage. Baun was also the only FBS linebacker to earn at least an 85.0 PFF grade in both pass rushing and coverage in 2019 (PFF grades are not the end all be all, but they still are a good measure of a player’s abilities).
Baun’s stats also read very well for his abilities in both pass rushing and coverage. Baun ended 2019 with 13 sacks, and while sacks can be a bit of a random stat for a pass rusher, what’s more impressive is his 52 total pressures (including six against Michigan and nine against Minnesota). In coverage, Baun has been targeted 28 times in his Badger career, giving up 22 receptions. Since he was a linebacker, it could be fairly assumed most of the receptions came against either running backs or tight ends. These are plays where sometimes the best thing a coverage man can do is wrap up and make a quick tackle. Baun gave up just 5.6 yards/reception in his two years starting at Wisconsin, along with giving up zero touchdowns and making two interceptions.
Baun is still a rookie heading into 2020 and a learning curve is to be expected. However he stood up to stout competition in the Big Ten over the course of his Wisconsin career and was almost always up to the task. While Demario Davis is still the ace of the Saints linebacking corps, Baun could be a valuable piece for 2020 and the coming years.
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