NY Jets’ third-round pick Jabari Zuniga has quite an interesting background.
The NY Jets took a chance on a flashy third-round edge rusher from the University of Florida in the 2019 NFL Draft and they followed that up by drafting his position-mate and former teammate the following year in the exact same around.
Only they’ll be hoping that Jabari Zuniga finds a lot more success than Jachai Polite did.
Polite and Zuniga were at one point considered one of the most fearsome pass-rusher duos in college football. And the former seemed well on his way to stardom before pre-draft attitude concerns tanked his draft stock.
Those concerns didn’t stop the Jets from taking a flier on him in the third round as the talent was too much to pass up. As fate would have it, Polite wouldn’t be long for the Jets as he was released as part of final roster cuts.
But this isn’t about Jachai Polite. This is about the player who’s a safe bet to have a significantly greater impact than his former college teammate.
This is about Jabari Zuniga.
You’ve heard all about his college career. Everything from his successes to his unfortunate injuries has been discussed. But what about his background? What about the man behind the Jets’ third-round pick?
Today, we take a look at three interesting things to know about Jabari Zuniga.
Next: 3. He considers himself the steal of the draft
3. NY Jets’ third-round pick Jabari Zuniga considers himself the steal of the draft
The term “steal” is thrown around far too much in the months following the conclusion of the NFL Draft. Seemingly every mid-round prospect that has a hint of promise is referred to as a “draft steal” by fans.
As fans, it’s okay to be optimistic. But as players, it’s almost a necessity to have that mindset.
And that’s exactly the mindset that Zuniga has as he referred to himself as the “steal of the draft” talking with Jets media after the draft. Per Jets reporter Ethan Greenberg, this is what he had to say about his expectations.
“I definitely consider myself the steal of the draft. I feel like I can do a lot on the football field and I’ll show that next year.”
Perhaps Zuniga has a point.
The Florida product was well on his way to establishing himself as a first-round prospect before a high ankle sprain limited him to just six games in his senior season. Prior to his injury, Zuniga had racked up three sacks and seven tackles for loss in those six games.
If he kept up that pace, he could very well have been a Day 1 pick when all was set and done. It’s a shame too because Zuniga was already considered a top-100 pick following his impressive junior season, but he returned to school looking to improve his draft stock.
Unfortunately, his injury robbed him of any chance he had to do that. But now that he’s in the NFL, he should have every opportunity to fulfill his own prophecy of being the “steal of the draft.”
Next: 2. His small size led to little initial interest
2. NY Jets’ edge rusher Jabari Zuniga’s small size led to little initial interest
At 6-foot-3, 263 pounds, few have had any questions about Zuniga’s size. If anything it was his speed and athleticism that had some scouts concerned leading up to the draft.
But that hasn’t always been the case. Far from it, in fact.
Going into his junior year of high school, Zuniga stood at just 5-foot-11 and barely weighed 200 pounds. And because of his smaller stature, there weren’t many schools that took notice at first.
That included the school that he would eventually go on to attend. Florida assistant coach Randy Shannon recounted the first time he met Zuniga while he was a junior in high school.
“That May he was 5-11. Senior year he sprouted up. It was like, ‘whoa, wait a minute. Who is this guy?’ Well, like anything else, some people didn’t go back through the school because he was 5-11 at that time.”
That senior sprout-up is what eventually allowed Zuniga to become the No. 70 recruit in the state of Georgia. After initially only receiving offers from FCS or Group of 5 schools, the Power 5 programs came calling.
It also helped that Zuniga put up monster numbers in his senior season totaling 56 tackles and 12 sacks. And by that point, Florida had returned into the fray and the young pass rusher flipped his commitment from NC State to the Gators.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Next: 1. Basketball background
1. NY Jets’ edge rusher Jabari Zuniga has a basketball background
Surprise, surprise — the Jets drafted a player with a basketball background.
If you’ve been paying close attention to the players general manager Joe Douglas has added this offseason, you may have found one thing in common amongst the vast majority of them. They all played basketball in high school.
More from The Jet Press
- NY Jets: Patriots will not use the franchise tag on Joe Thuney
- NY Jets officially place the franchise tag on safety Marcus Maye
- NY Jets: 3 offensive linemen who are realistic trade targets
- NY Jets: 3 reasons to be optimistic about the 2021 season
- NY Jets: Analyzing the ways to upgrade the cornerback position
In fact, basketball was actually Zuniga’s first love.
The Georgia native played basketball all throughout his youth and didn’t pick up football until high school. And by the time he was a senior, Zuniga shined as his school’s 6-foot-3, 250-pound starting center.
This isn’t a coincidence either as his father, Carlos, was a standout high school basketball player in Louisiana before attending Tulane where he would earn all-conference honors. Zuniga was simply following in his father’s steps.
That basketball background has likely contributed to his quick first step and excellent bend around the edge. At its core, basketball is all about footwork and that’s always been a strength of Zuniga’s game.
Joe Douglas loves when his players have basketball backgrounds and Zuniga joins a long list of Jets who fit that bill.