MOBILE, Ala. — The Giants already have one player who made the unusual transition from high school quarterback to standout college linebacker at Wisconsin, and another one could be on the way.
Ryan Connelly was doing big things as a rookie for the Giants before he went down with a season-ending injury. One of his former Badgers teammates would not mind a reunion.
“Yeah, that would be awesome,’’ Zack Baun said Tuesday before the first Senior Bowl practice of the week. “I think if I go to a team with any other Wisconsin linebacker, it’s automatically going to help me pick up the defense. We have a strong bond, connection, being from essentially the same bloodline.’’
Teams in the NFL know all about taking Wisconsin offensive linemen in the draft — it is a smart thing to do. Lately, though, a specific position on defense is rising on the charts, developed in Madison and spread throughout the league.
“I think every linebacker that started at Wisconsin since I’ve been there is in the league and doing very well,’’ Baun said. “I think we’re the new Linebacker U.’’
Baun said it with a smile, knowing he took a bit of a shot at Big Ten rival Penn State. But he has a point. He was teammates at Wisconsin with Joe Schobert, T.J. Watt, T.J. Edwards, Andrew Van Ginkel, Leon Jacobs and Connelly. All but Edwards were drafted and all are in the NFL.
Baun said he spoke to Giants representatives here and he stands out in one particular area the Giants desperately need to improve. Baun had 12.5 sacks as a senior and is an interesting edge-rush prospect, a true speed rusher. This week, he will play at weakside linebacker during Senior Bowl practices. He had 19 tackles for loss this past season for the Badgers and the label of playmaker is attached to him. He is 6-foot-3 and weighed in at 240, five pounds heavier than his final year in college.
It is early in the process and there is some buzz Baun could go late in the first round and is expected to go no later than the second round. Not bad for a run-first option quarterback from the very Wisconsin-sounding Brown Deer who arrived to college at 205 pounds.
“I would have said ‘You’re crazy,’ ’’ said Baun of what his thoughts would have been if this scenario was presented to him coming out of high school.
Turning a quarterback into a linebacker takes time, which is why so many Wisconsin players take a redshirt year. Baun sees an advantage in being a former quarterback when it comes time to chase them down.
“With the spread offenses nowadays everyone’s running the zone read — it’s exactly what I ran in high school,’’ Baun said. “I was a running quarterback, I was rarely handing the ball off in those zone reads. Players are so undisciplined in high school, I was keeping it every time. It taught me as an edge defender to be patient and hold your water.’’
Connelly was a fifth-round pick and it took him only one game to work his way into the starting lineup. He had interceptions in back-to-back games and picked up his first sack in Week 4 but went down in that game, against the Redskins, with a torn ACL. He spent the remainder of his rookie year on injured reserve and is expected to be ready to return in training camp.
“He’s doing big things, just shows me a quarterback in high school can make an impact in the league on defense,’’ Baun said.
Baun said he modeled his game after Schobert and thinks he is most similar with the Browns starting inside linebacker.
“I think I can make the same transition to inside ’backer as he did,’’ Baun said.
Baun, though, has more pass-rush ability. The Giants will not take Baun with the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft but high in the second round, at No. 36? That is in the ballpark.
“Coming from Wisconsin we’re dependable, smart, we’re tough,’’ Baun said. “We play a hardnosed brand of football and that’s very attractive to an NFL team.’’
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