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Jets third-round pick Jabari Zuniga wants to prove he's a steal

Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga sets up for

Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga sets up for a play during the first half of an NCAA football game against Miami on, Aug. 24, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. Credit: AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Florida defensive end Jabari Zuniga wants to make up for lost time and prove he’s one of the best players from this draft class.

Zuniga, whom the Jets took in the third round with the  79th overall pick Friday night, played only six games in the 2019 season because of an ankle injury. It definitely affected his draft stock, but he believes he can make an impact with the Jets.

“I definitely consider myself the steal of the draft,” Zuniga said. “I definitely can do a lot on the football field. I’ll show that next year.”

Zuniga was productive when healthy. As a junior, he had 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He was excited about building on that as a senior, but a high ankle sprain limited him, and he had only three sacks.

“It was extremely frustrating,” he said. “One of my main reasons for coming back was to improve my on-field performance. I feel when I got injured, it was definitely great adversity that I had to overcome.”

The Jets badly need an edge rusher. Zuniga finished his Florida career with 18.5 sacks, but he could be a late bloomer.

Zuniga played only one year of high school football and  showed growth throughout his time in college. He also impressed at the NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.64 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 29 times. The Jets spent a lot of time scouting and watching him and think he can help them.

“Even when he was dealing with his ankle injury, his explosiveness jumps off the tape,” general manager Joe Douglas said. “He can really disrupt guys. He’s an edge presence.”

Assistant general manager Rex Hogan added, “He shows versatility, being able to play all over the front for Florida’s defensive line. But what he does have is explosiveness and twitch off the ball and get-off. His production rate and what he did show on the field is what we saw from him and what we expect from him going forward with the Jets as far as getting after the quarterback.”

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