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Former Badgers outside linebacker Zack Baun discuses how the program helped him grow on and off the field. Packers News

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Latest in a Packers Prospects series looking at players Green Bay could select in the April 23-25 NFL draft.

GREEN BAY - When the Los Angeles Rams released Clay Matthews after a renaissance season earlier this month, there was a natural connection to the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers find themselves this spring in need of linebackers — both defenders who drop off the ball and rushers from the edge. In Matthews, the Packers could acquire a linebacker or, as former coach Mike McCarthy used to say, a football player.

Matthews can do both. So Matthews makes sense.

The same thinking could make Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun an intriguing prospect. Baun, like Matthews, is simply a linebacker. One of the more versatile defenders in college football, Baun can line up in the box against the run, drop in coverage or rush the quarterback.

He would fill a lot of holes in a Packers defense that needs playmaking on the second level and depth on the edge after losing Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell in free agency.

The difference: Baun would give the Packers the versatility of Matthews while playing on a rookie contract, meaning he won’t demand nearly the cost. Of course, there’s no guarantee Baun will become the same player, but their size and speed entering the draft are similar.

The fact Baun played just down the road in Madison only adds further intrigue. The Packers will know him well, having watched him blossom up close. Maybe the Brown Deer native will make his professional home in Brown County.

Age next season: 24.

Combine measurables: 4.65 40, 24 bench-press reps, 32.5-inch vertical jump.

Stats: 75 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 passes defended, 2 fumbles forced, 1 touchdown.

Pro Football Focus analysis: After redshirting in 2015 and playing just 80 snaps in 2016, Baun was ready to take on a bigger role for Wisconsin until a foot injury suffered before the 2017 season caused him to miss the entire year. When he came back in 2018, he made an immediate impact in the pass rush and in coverage. Over the last two years, Baun dropped into coverage 195 times and allowed just 112 yards while combining for five pass breakups and interceptions. In the pass rush during that same stretch, Baun generated pressure on 16.5% of his rushes, which tied for the sixth-highest rate. In 2019 alone, Baun racked up 25 combined sacks plus hits while producing an elite 91.0 pass-rush grade. His size is a concern, but he overcame that to be one of few to be able to rush the passer and play off-ball at high level.

Draftniks say: “A defensive playmaker, Baun emerged as one of the best pass rushers in college football last season. He will move to more of an off-ball role in the NFL where the Packers could unleash his athleticism in coverage and as a blitzer.” – Dane Brugler, The Athletic

Quotable: “One of the teams identified me as like ‘the toy’ — a can-do-it-all linebacker, give me the opportunity to rush the edge, play off the ball, drop into coverage, use all my skill sets to the fullest.” – Zack Baun

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