Among the four position groups needing attention heading into the NFL Draft, defensive end was perhaps the least concerning for the New York Jets. It still got an early nod, however, with general manager Joe Douglas taking Florida edge rusher Jabari Zuniga midway through the third round.
At Florida, he had a solid senior season before an ankle injury sidelined him (14 tackles, three sacks) after six games. If he can regain the form of 2018 (45 tackles, 6.5 sacks) then the Jets have something to work with.
They need an edge rusher to take this defense to the next level. They perhaps got that in a talented and fast Zuniga.
The Buzz: There is plenty to like about Zuniga, coming off a combine where he ran a 4.64 time in the 40 and showed that he had bounced back from his injury last year.
That type of speed is high-end for an edge rusher and Zuniga will be asked to collapse the pocket and bring pressure. The Jets lacked a consistent edge rush last year and with Zuniga, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has a new asset to use in getting to the quarterback.
The Fit: The fit? Zuniga has a great shot to be a starter early on. The Jets need an edge rusher and Zuniga has the production and metrics that project very well into being much more than a contributor but a real impact player in the NFL.
The Concern: Health, as is the concern for a number of the Jets products, is a question for Zuniga, whose senior season was cut short after six games due to an ankle injury.
Size is also a concern. While he isn’t undersized, Zuniga at 6’3 and 264 pounds isn’t the largest of edge rushers (Muhammad Wilkerson, taken by the Jets in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, fit that mold a bit more at 6’4 and 315 pounds…don’t laugh that inch and wingspan matters when contesting balls). And while he has good strength and a solid physique, he isn’t quite as built as some of the more typical edge rushers in the 3-4 defense.
That doesn’t mean that Zuniga can’t perform or won’t perform. He proved in the SEC that he can be a dominant edge rusher and he projects to get lots of snaps in 2020. But he will likely need to reshape his body a bit to be an every-down edge rusher for the Jets.
The good news is that he has a tremendous work ethic.
The Outlook: Zuniga figures to have a prominent role with the Jets almost immediately and could easily be a starter at some point his rookie season. While he doesn’t have great length or size, his quickness is a real asset here.
The injury last year – yes it is a question mark - but Zuniga had good production up until that point for Florida. He also was very solid his junior season.
This was a good pick by Douglas, a real nice job. If healthy, chances are that Zuniga is a top 50 pick in the draft, if not a bit higher. He has some real nice tools to develop under Williams.