The Bengals could look to add multiple linebackers in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Wisconsin’s Zack Baun is an intriguing prospect who’s demonstrated success as a pass rusher, but he could have the ability to play off-the-ball linebacker as well.
Position: Edge / Linebacker
School: Wisconsin Badgers
Class: Redshirt Senior
Hometown: Brown Deer, Wisconsin
Pros: Baun has an excellent burst off the edge as a pass rusher and the flexibility to bend and get to the quarterback. He was extremely productive in 2019, recording 12.5 sacks on the season.
Baun is excellent in outside run support. He can hold the edge when the play comes to him or bend down the line of scrimmage and make a play from the back side. Uses his hands well to disengage from blocks. Understands gap responsibility and fills quickly against the run when off-the-ball.
When asked to drop into coverage, he has shown athleticism and the ability to read the quarterback.
Baun attacks every aspect of the game with great tenacity, always fighting to make a play.
Cons: Prior to 2019, Baun had only recorded 2.5 sacks. He has a limited repertoire of pass rush and wins mainly with speed. He also lacks the length that is helpful in deploying said pass rush moves.
Baun is a bit of a tweener, with good size and okay speed for a linebacker, and poor size and good speed for a defensive end. As a result, he might not be a great fit for every defense.
He could struggle with big, long offensive tackles, both as a pass rusher and in run defense.
Red Flags: Missed all of 2017 with a broken left foot.
NFL Comp: Kyle Van Noy
Bengals Fit: What is he? He is truly a 3-4 outside linebacker. Although the Bengals ran some odd fronts last year, he’ll need to do more than that to validate his draft slot.
The Bengals have a big need at off-the-ball linebacker and Baun has shown some ability to fill that role. They could try him in this position, but if they were smart, they would still utilize his pass rushing ability.
His ability to get after the quarterback gives him a high floor. Even if he is not great at linebacker, he can contribute as a situational pass rusher. That gives him value.
Draftability: It could be tough. A lot of people are very high on Baun. There is a good chance he could go in the back half of Round 1, so he’d be good value early in Round 2 when the Bengals go on the clock at pick No. 33.
Summary: Baun’s versatility may be just what defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is looking for. Baun has the potential to play linebacker next to Germaine Pratt but could also be utilized as a pass rusher off the edge and in the A-gap. This would be a fun pick for the Bengals if he makes it out of Round 1.