Three things are certain in life: Death, taxes, and the Jets drafting pass-rushers who fail to deliver. Now, Jow Douglas is counting on Jabari Zuniga to change that.
Since the 2011 NFL Draft, the Jets have drafted five defensive linemen in the first round. There was a brief success with both Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, and there’s still hope for Quinnen Williams. However, none have lived up to the expectations and the Jets have been one of the worst teams in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback during that span.
Entering the 2020 offseason, there were different concerns. The offensive line and the wide-receiving core were major components that needed fixing. Both were heavily addressed during free agency and the draft.
Nevertheless, Joe Douglas, in his first draft as a Jets general manager, didn’t pass on the opportunity to use an early-to-middle-round pick on an edge-rusher. With the 79th overall selection, New York, still hopeful to steal Jadeveon Clowney from the market, took Jabari Zuniga, a defensive end from Florida.
Collegiate Career (Florida)
Zuniga, a Georgia native, spent four seasons with the Gators, with his best campaign being in 2018. That year, he would go on to record 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 13 starts as an edge in Florida’s 4-3 defensive scheme.
During the 2019 campaign, Zuniga only played five games due to injury issues. He was quiet alongside SEC sack leader Jonathan Greenard, who’s had 17 sacks since 2018. Nonetheless, the Jets decided to take Zuniga over Greenard, who went to the Texans with the 90th pick.
The most important thing here is how he compares to players like Darrel Taylor and Jonathan Greenard. Meanwhile, the problems in the pass-rush have, at least, been finally addresses.
That likely won’t be enough, though. It’s a mystery as to why Douglas would choose Zuniga over Greenard and Anfernee Jennings, who both had more sacks last year than Zuniga’s career-high of 6.5 in 2018. All three pass-rushers were seniors last year.
It’s also a tough comparison with Greenard, who led not only the team but all of SEC in sacks with 10. In comparison with a player in the same defensive system, he had 6.5 sacks less.”
What He Brings to the Team
There aren’t any particular weaknesses in his film. He looks like he could be a dominant pass-rusher off the edges. His numbers don’t really support such a statement but one could only wonder what a fully healthy 2019 campaign would have brought to his statistical value.
His film also proves he’s a risky pick. Zuniga is very powerful and difficult to stop one-on-one but lack of mobility sometimes holds him back. Certainly, he was quiet in 2019 due to that reason – the 4-3 defense favors faster and more flexible edge-rushers.
Still, he was able to stay prolific during his last two seasons, also due to his successful hand technique. This allowed Florida head coach Dan Mullen to utilize him against double-teamed linemen, through the inside, as well as his usual position. He’s able to overcome this lack of flexibility and even improve as a player, and it’s very likely he would have increased his value had he played 13 games in 2019.
Strengths and weaknesses
Strength – Power
Weakness – Flexibility
How He Fits With the Jets
The Jets defensive line was at crossroads in 2019. On the one hand, it posted a highly satisfying year when it comes to stopping the run, allowing the third-fewest yards on the ground. On the other hand, the Jets were just 26th in terms of sack production, which is where the concerns stem from.
Considering the interior nature of the front three in last year’s 3-4 defense, Zuniga is an edge-rusher who is easy to plug in even as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 rather than Dan Mullen’s 4-3 in Florida. However, it’s difficult to see him having the production of a dominant edge.
New York re-signed its most productive pass-rusher OLB Jordan Jenkins, who recorded eight sacks last year. This makes it almost certain the Jets are going to stick with the 3-4 next year. Jenkins will be on the one side, with (hopefully) a true edge-rusher on the other, and Henry Anderson, Steve McLendon, and Quinnen Williams upfront.
If that’s indeed the way they go, the only room for improvement is that “true edge” spot. It’s true – Zuniga is very impressive film-wise, and probably would’ve been a lot more highly thought of if he had played a full 2019 season. He could turn out to be a pleasant surprise that leads the Jets to a better pass-rushing year.
However, with the Jets having more than $18 million in cap space and needing to import production, they should at least make a run at signing Clowney. Joe Douglas seems to prioritize bringing in Logan Ryan during the second wave of free-agent additions across the NFL. Nevertheless, Joe Douglas stacking the house at cornerback/safety and assuring depth could change that.
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