The Toy: Zack Baun's football dream within reach as NFL draft approaches

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Badgers had three, talented offensive players invited to the NFL scouting combine this year, but it's a defensive stalwart who will likely be the earliest selection from the school.

Zack Baun can see it. Come this fall, he's the complete package for some NFL team -- even as a rookie.

"This is a business, and I'm trying to provide as much value to a team as I can," Baun said. "Whether that's knowledge of the game, ability to play, off the field stuff. You need to have every category to be exactly what a team is looking for."

Baun was the state's offensive player of the year as a senior at Brown Deer High School but became a linebacker at Wisconsin. In his final season, he recorded 19-and-a-half tackles for loss.

Zack Baun

"Before I moved to defense, I didn't know there were so many detailed intricacies of the game," said Baun. "I am just so intrigued by the knowledge of the game that you need to have to really be the player you want to be."

NFL offenses get more wide open every year, putting a premium on athletic defenders like Baun who offers positional versatility.

"One of the teams identified me as the toy, I kind of can do it all, linebacker, give me the opportunity to rush the edge, play off the ball, drop into coverage, use all of my skillset to the fullest," Baun said.

All of it is a long way from where he started -- West Bend East High School -- before he went to Brown Deer, before he played quarterback, before he played basketball, before he became a Badger and before he became an NFL Draft prospect.

Zack Baun (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

"I can believe I'm here with my attitude and my driven purpose," said Baun. "I feel like everything in life has kind of been a risk. I was taking a risk transferring to Brown Deer, taking a risk playing quarterback, taking a risk playing outside linebacker when I'd never even played defense in my life.

"I know with my hard word 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."

Baun has channeled it all and is on the verge of his football dream. He isn't taking anything about his position lightly. He had one scholarship officer coming out of high school -- South Dakota State. He initially committed to Wisconsin as a delayed recruit, known as a grayshirt, but was pumped up when Paul Chryst took over as head coach; it's been an upward trajectory ever since.