4 New Orleans Saints who have to step up versus Patriots in Week 3
By Kristen Wong
3. New Orleans Saints linebacker Zack Baun
We normally hate the word ‘potential’ thrown around, but linebacker Zack Baun really does have it. Baun has been given chance after chance to live up to it this season, but he just….hasn’t.
The No. 74 pick in 2020 might currently be going through that one “training” phase all projected breakout stars go through — you know, like the part where Luke Skywalker hops around a swamp doing cartwheels and handstands with Yoda on his back.
Baun will need to do better against the Patriots. Not try to do better. Do better.
He had some promising highlights in the Carolina game when he blocked a field goal to revitalize a Saints team that looked dead in the water from the beginning. His seven tackles were a career-high, but he hasn’t yet become the player Sean Payton wanted him to be.
At Wisconsin, Baun excelled as an on-the-ball defender and edge-rusher, but the Saints have been molding him into a different type of linebacker more suited for their needs. They wanted him to be more productive off-ball and in space, making plays alongside Demario Davis from all over the field.
Last year, Baun appeared in 15 games, but he didn’t play a defensive snap until Week 4.
He’s yet to make his mark on the team, and part of the reason could be his trouble adapting to a slightly different role in the defense. His Week 2 matchup against Christian McCaffrey wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, and an in-form James White won’t be much easier.
But other rookies before and after him understood the assignment and exceeded expectations (see: Paulson Adebo, Payton Turner), and Baun needs to join the others or else get left behind.
The start of the 2021 season saw a jubilant union of the Saints’ linebacker unit with Davis, Baun, Kwon Alexander, and Kaden Elliss.
The honeymoon phase has since started to fade, and with Alexander on injured reserve, the Saints will be leaning on Baun for this game and many others.
He’s athletic enough. He’s smart enough. Now, he just has to prove it.