Whether or not the goal was to be crowd-pleasing, the New Orleans Saints accomplished it big time Friday night in the third round of the NFL Draft.
The Saints moved up in the draft, from No. 88 overall to No. 74, always a popular maneuver among their diehards. And with the pick, New Orleans selected a linebacker – Wisconsin's Zach Baun, filling a need position that Coach Sean Payton identified Thursday night, after the first round was completed.
New Orleans didn't own a second-round pick this year. In order to move up, the Saints swapped places with Cleveland in the third round Friday night and surrendered to the Browns their third-round pick in 2021, while picking up Cleveland's seventh-round pick this year.
That jump allowed the Saints to pick Baun, who had 2.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 77 tackles and one forced fumble in his first two seasons of play at Wisconsin, then increased to 12.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, 75 tackles and two forced fumbles last year.
"Linebacker, certainly, was an area that we knew coming into (Friday) that we wanted to hopefully address," Coach Sean Payton said. "And yet, without having that second-round pick, there's uncertainty as to whether one of those guys is going to be available. We were able to move back up when we saw our guy fall some."
At that point, the Saints were able to secure Baun, whose production spiked in his final collegiate season.
"We lost a lot of production after the 2018 season and I just knew that someone had to step up as a leader and production on the field," he said. "So right after the season, I went up to my position coach and I said, 'Coach, I'm trying to be the best player I can be. I know I have the athletic ability and gifts to be one of the top players in this league, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes, whether that's getting stronger in the weight room, extra film study, bringing young guys to the field.'
"Just doing all I could and I did that all throughout the season and it really paid off for me."
This phase of the payoff entails being drafted by the Saints, who have won the NFC South Division the last three years. But as pleased as New Orleans may have been to get Baun, a projected first- or second-rounder entering the draft, he was at least as happy to be off the board and a Saint.
"There isn't any other place I would want to be," said Baun, who twice met with the Saints, at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, prior to the draft. "I'm just excited to get things rolling. Don't even know how to feel right now, I'm just so excited.
"Obviously, when you go into a situation like this, you have a range that you think you're going to get picked. But once you see the other teams start picking and kind of how everything plays out, yeah, you get impatient and you want to just hear your name called. But nonetheless, it's such a special moment and to be picked by such a great organization is so big for me and my family and everyone that helped me get to this point."
He mainly was an edge rusher in college, but said his game was adaptable to whatever would be required in the NFL.
"Obviously, I'm more comfortable on the edge, that's where I spent all of my time in college," he said. "But I really just consider myself a linebacker that can do a lot of different things. I think my versatility is my biggest asset."
Baun, who measured 6 feet 2, 238 pounds at the Combine, received pass rush tips from former Badger J.J. Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Houston who's the only player in league history with two 20-sack seasons.
"I understand I can't do a lot of things that the 6-5, 260-pound defensive ends do, but I can take bit and pieces of a lot of different peoples' game and implement them into mine and make my own style," Baun said.
With the 74th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints traded up to select LB