As one of the more dependable players for the Florida Gators over the past four years, former Gators defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga posted a regrettable final season at Florida, playing only six games due to a nagging ankle injury.
That, however, didn't prevent the New York Jets from selecting the sturdy defensive end with the 79th overall pick, a third-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft over the weekend. In the past four years, Zuniga has tallied 116 total tackles (53 solos), 33 tackles for loss, and 18.5 sacks.
With only 18.5 sacks, Zuniga returned to the Gators last year to prove he can provide more production than he's getting credit for. Zuniga touched on that subject when asked about his frustration level last season, not able to play as many games as he had otherwise hoped for.
"It was extremely frustrating because one of my main reasons [for] coming back was to improve my on-the-field performance," Zuniga told the Jets media on Friday. "So I feel like when I got injured it was definitely great adversity that I had to overcome. So, I just feel like I had to make the most out of my senior season, you know just deal with it, it's part of football, but it was definitely frustrating."
While he wasn't able to perform to the best of his abilities, Zuniga should be able to provide the Jets with a defensive lineman, able to showcase his talents across all facets of the defensive line, a versatile weapon for Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
With the Gators, Zuniga routinely played in multiple spots, including the traditional 5-technique defensive end position, or even inside during sub-packages, those are his expectations as he heads into his rookie season.
"I feel like - my strength is being versatile. I feel like I can play 4i, traditional end spot, 9-technique, 3-technique, different sub-packages, so I definitely feel like one of my strengths is my versatility," Zuniga told reporters when asked what his best position would be in the NFL. "But, my ideal position I feel like is [the] traditional end, 5-technique, 9-technique, 7-technique."
This is likely the best situation for Zuniga, as we pointed out during the pre-draft process, the Jets play multiple fronts under Williams, utilizing defensive linemen in a variety of ways. That will allow Zuniga to be a jack-of-all-trades as he adjusts to the NFL game.
One of the questions many scouts had regarding Zuniga, he says, was his speed. He doesn't look, on the field at least, like an overly impressive speed rusher, presenting power instead. However, at the 2020 NFL Combine, Zuniga showed just that - running a 4.64 40-yard dash and putting all of those questions to rest. That ranks in the 93rd percentile among NFL defensive linemen, per MockDraftable.
"I feel like a lot of teams didn't think I was that fast for some reason," Zuniga said when asked if his combine performance impacted his draft stock. "So I definitely feel like my 40 raised some eyebrows and I feel like my bench raised some eyebrows, so I definitely feel like I did."
The Jets are getting a proven leader on the gridiron, with the capability of being a chess piece on defense, fitting in everywhere and anywhere.
One thing is clear too, Zuniga will enter the season with a serious chip on his sounder, proving to everyone that passed on him he was worthy of the selection.
"I definitely consider myself the steal of the draft, I feel like I could do a lot on the football field and I'll show that next year."