INDIANAPOLIS — Prior to coming to Wisconsin, Zack Baun never played a snap of defense in his life.
A high-school quarterback and 3-star recruit, Baun was Wisconsin’s Offensive Player of the Year for his senior season as voted on by the state’s coaches. ESPN ranked him as the No. 23 quarterback for his class.
Baun is now on the NFL’s radar as a hybrid defender that can fill multiple roles. His time spent at the quarterback position prepared him for this role, especially to defend today’s modern offenses.
“We were in a spread offense and did a lot of zone reads so playing on the edge in college taught me to be patient,'' Baun said Thursday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. "In high school they were just crashing down and giving the quarterback the option, so just being patient. It helped with my athleticism as well.”
In Baun’s standout senior campaign in high school, he racked up 1,936 passing yards and 20 passing touchdowns with 1,837 rushing yards and 39 rushing touchdowns.
Baun made an uncommon transition to the defensive side of the football at the college level and developed into a player the Wisconsin staff trusted with a full plate of responsibility while lining up in numerous spots. Whether it was lining up as a true defensive end, 3-4 outside linebacker or as a true off-ball linebacker, Baun was given chances to drop in coverage, rush the passer, shoot gaps and defend the run.
He played his best football as a senior at Wisconsin, racking up 75 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 12 1/2 sacks en route to First Team All-Big Ten Honors. Baun credits becoming a student of the game and preparation as the reason for his ability to make the transition.
“Before moving to defense I didn’t know there so many detailed intricacies of the game," he said. "I’m just so intrigued by the knowledge of the game that you need to really be the player you want to be. If you want to be an elite-level player you have to have the highest football IQ and be able to recognize things before they’re going to happen. Wisconsin has taught me that. You have to be on point in your preparation. If you narrow it down enough you can anticipate a play before it happens (and) you’re at such an advantage. There are definitely keys throughout the game that the offense is just giving you.”
Baun’s open-minded approach to doing whatever it takes to helps his team was calculated but has proven necessary for him to get to this point in his football journey.
“I can believe I’m here,” he said. “With my attitude and my driven-purposes, I feel like everything in my life has been a risk. I was taking a risk transferring to Brown Deer High School and playing quarterback. Taking a risk playing outside linebacker, which I had never even played defense in my life. But I knew with my hard work and my tenacity and willingness to get after it and be the best at whatever I’m doing, it’s a true competitive edge that’s helped me throughout.”
Embracing the transition has paid off, and now it’s Baun’s versatility that he believes makes him such an attractive target for team’s in the coming draft.
“I think that’s a part of my game that teams are really impressed with my ability to be so versatile and kind of do a lot of different things very well,” stated Baun. “With that being said, I played off the ball at the Senior Bowl and got to showcase my ability to do that. I feel completely comfortable and just willing to do whatever it takes.”