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Jabari Zuniga has chance to make biggest impact of any Jets rookie in 2020

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Jabari Zuniga has chance to make biggest impact of any Jets rookie in 2020

Tyler Calvaruso 

8 hours ago

Every so often there is a middle or late-round draft pick that comes out of nowhere to make an instant impact for his team.

For the Jets, that rookie might be outside linebacker Jabari Zuniga.

Zuniga’s career at Florida was hampered by constant injuries and questionable usage. In four seasons with the Gators, he missed 11 games, eight of which came in his senior year. Thirty-nine games played out of a possible 50 might not seem like the worst statistic in the world considering a large chunk of missed games came in one season, but Zuniga often played through injuries which hindered his ability to produce as he normally would.

When healthy, Zuniga’s raw talent was on display. As a junior, he recorded 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. However, Florida’s coaching staff frequently made the head-scratching decision to line him up as an inside linebacker. Zuniga still produced while playing inside, but he was rarely able to show off his skills coming off the edge.

The injuries and misuse caused Zuniga to slide down many draft boards even though his talent was abundantly clear on film. Zuniga’s Florida tape and a strong NFL combine in February were all the Jets needed to see, though, as general manager Joe Douglas felt comfortable enough to select Zuniga in the third round.

Zuniga now has an opportunity to not only slide into New York’s starting lineup, but become an impactful pass rusher right off the bat. Tarrell Basham came on strong at the end of last season, but other than him, there is little quality competition for the starting outside linebacker spot opposite Jordan Jenkins.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known for coaching young players up and getting the most out of them as early as possible. As long as he can stay healthy, there is no reason why Zuniga cannot become the latest Williams protege to evolve into a menace rushing the passer sooner rather than later.

Saying Zuniga could make the biggest impact of any Jets rookie in 2020 is a bold claim — especially since first-round pick Mekhi Becton is a lock to start at left tackle and second-round pick Denzel Mims has a very good chance to open the season as a starter at wide receiver. However, Becton is still raw and it remains to be seen if he can consistently contain NFL pass rushers as a rookie. As for Mims, if he wins a starting job in training camp, he will have to share targets with Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, Quincy Enunwa, Ryan Griffin, Chris Herndon and others.

If Zuniga wins a starting job, the only player standing in his way on the road to production is himself.

Zuniga has a lot of work to do in the coming months to develop into a starting-caliber NFL edge rusher, but the potential for him to do so is certainly there. As long as he progresses as expected and avoids the injury bug, don’t discount the possibility of Zuniga becoming New York’s most productive rookie this upcoming season.

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He explodes off the LOS and makes plays in the backfield.  Can set the edge on the run too.  You can see the upside for him to be potentially the pass rusher Jets need so badly. 

GW can definitely coach him up and utilize him effectively in his first year.  Just hope Zuniga can stay healthy.  

IMO the big key to a much improved pass rush this year...is a breakout season by QW.   Hopefully he's a wreaking ball in the defense this year.  That could possibly revitalize Anderson.  Be a big help in freeing up a rookie like Zuniga.  And helping Jenkins too.   



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  • 2 weeks later...

Man, did you see him BLOW by Isiah Wilson?  As high as I am on Zuniga, Wilson is going to really struggle in the NFL.  Dude just reacts way too slow.  Thank God JD didn't draft him.   I would pay to see Zuniga go up against Becton in full pads.   It should be a good experience for both and instructive on what the both will need to work on.   

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On 5/1/2020 at 5:08 PM, flgreen said:

I like this guy a lot, but I'm going to remain silent about him after my touting Polite last year.  LOL

He's nothing like Polite. I actually liked this pick even if I didn't expect it. Hated Polite wayyyyy before we even drafted him. Zuniga has the athletic profile that matches up well as a predictor for a sack guy at the NFL level.....Polite not at all.

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