Florida OLB and a new member of the New York Jets, Jabari Zuniga, has described himself as “the steal of the draft” and looking at his potential he may well be right.
The earliest spotlight on last week’s NFL Draft for the Jets shined mostly on first-round pick OT Mekhi Becton and second-round pick WR Denzel Mims and for these players, the spotlight was well deserved.
The Jets then moved their focus on to Jabari Zuniga and selected him in the third round, 79th selection overall.
The question many fans may ask is why did Jabari Zuniga fall to the third round and why does he consider himself to be the “steal of the draft”?
During the 2019 season and in reality, throughout his collegiate career, Zuniga has been playing through multiple injuries including a severe high ankle sprain last year which has limited his playing time.
When Zuniga was healthy during his junior year in 2018, he posted great numbers in having 45 tackles, 11 tackles for losses and 6.5 sacks. Indeed, throughout his college career, Zuniga has been a steady defensive stalwart and in his time at Florida, he has amassed a total of 118 tackles including 34.5 tackles for losses, 18.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Again, injuries throughout his Gator playing days forced Zuniga to miss playing time or play through a myriad of pains.
Furthermore, as an outside linebacker with a great sense of presence on the edge, Zuniga was moved inside last season by the Florida defensive staff inside which hindered his natural, instinctive style of edge play.
While being overshadowed by other edge rushers in the 2020 Draft such as LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson and Ohio State’s Chase Young, Zuniga turned many heads at the NFL Combine this past February when he posted a 4.64 second 40 time and also made an impressive showing in the bench press when he completed 29 reps. Zuniga’s star must have become brighter because he generated lots of interest from Jets GM Joe Douglas who contacted Zuniga multiple times throughout the draft process.
Douglas has believed that Zuniga has enormous potential as a legitimate NFL edge rusher which caused his draft stock to rise according to the Jets organization:
“He plays with really good hand strength. He can really disrupt gaps. He’s an edge presence. His disruption percentage rate was high. He was close to a 16% pressure rate. … He’s been a consistent producer in his four years at Florida, even with the injury, and I think we feel good about his makeup, the way that this guy competes.” – Joe Douglas, NewYorkJets.com, 4/30/20
The interest in Zuniga became real last week when the Jets went ahead and selected him in the third round. Zuniga is healthy and if he can stay healthy, Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams no doubt has plans to allow Zuniga to develop his natural playing instincts as an OLB and edge rusher.
Zuniga may very well live up to his own statement, and truly become ‘the steal of the draft.”
Featured Image: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports