Jets’ 4-3 Scheme Should Benefit Jabari Zuniga in Year Two

Jabari Zuniga

Getty New York Jets edge rusher Jabari Zuniga makes a tackle with Florida on November 3, 2018.

Right now New York Jets fans are enamored by what looks to be a tremendous 2021 draft class selected by Joe Douglas.

To be fair, it’s helping overshadow an underwhelming 2020 class that has not lived up to expectations.

Mekhi Becton is a beast, but only when he’s on the field. Second-round wide receiver Denzel Mims has also struggled with injuries, and he’s quickly losing ground on the depth chart to rookie Elijah Moore and free agent pick-up Keelan Cole.

Ashtyn Davis looked like a work in progress last season, La’Mical Perine was outplayed by Ty Johnson, James Morgan may be a total bust based on OTAs and Cameron Clark has yet to make an impact in one year-plus of camp.

Outside of Becton, the best picks are easily fifth- and sixth-rounders Bryce Hall and Braden Mann at this stage in the developmental process.

It is early though, and encouraging 2021 campaigns from two or three of these players could change the entire legacy of this draft class. One player that can help with that matter is 2020 third-round pick Jabari Zuniga, the final member Douglas’ inaugural class.

Zuniga Is a Better 4-3 Scheme Fit

As you can see in the tweet above from The Athletic‘s Connor Hughes, Zuniga has already gotten to Zach Wilson once in OTAs.

That may not seem like much, but it’s an immediate improvement on the edge rusher’s rookie campaign. In 103 defensive snaps plus four special teams ones, Zuniga only totaled five tackles with zero sacks or quarterback hits.

Year one was a disaster, plain and simple.

The silver lining is that Zuniga seems better-suited for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s 4-3 scheme. The former Florida Gator looked totally lost in the 3-4, alternating between an outside linebacker role and a “three-technique” defensive end or a sub-interior rush position.

None of the above worked for the true 4-3 defensive end but ask yourself, did the Jets coaching staff truly give Zuniga the best opportunity to succeed?

When lining up on the defensive line he was in the wrong weight class matching up against 300-pound guards. Then on the outside, he got punished by tight ends and wide receivers on crack blocks and counters.

Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network said he “would not endorse any reps that feature a 2-pt release or tasking [Zuniga] with a role in zone coverage or prowling in space,” while colleague Joe Marino determined that his worst trait was his “processing” ability. Both reports explain why he failed miserably as a 3-4 edge rusher.

At the heart of his game, Zuniga beats offensive tackles off the edge, but from a three-point stance and a low center of gravity, not an OLB position. Although he isn’t the fastest out of his break, Zuniga’s burst speed once up paired with his power and athleticism was his calling card in college. Just watch.

Role in Crowded Jets’ Front Four

At best, Zuniga looks like a rotational pass-rusher to this point. The Jets have compiled one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL, and although they are especially strong up the gut, Douglas has added plenty on the edge as well.

Here’s what the probable depth chart looks like as of now in Saleh’s scheme;

The third-round pick’s best chance for snaps is on the right end, but he’s currently being beaten out by a 2020 undrafted prospect in Huff, not to mention the veteran Curry.

Franklin-Myers is a possible candidate to get some snaps on the edge as well due to his versatility, which adds more competition for Zuniga. In the end, the chances will probably end up being few and far between unless injuries clear a path for the Florida star.

He’ll have to take advantage of his opportunities in order to have an impact in 2021, but for an explosive talent like Zuniga, sometimes one or two plays can make all the difference in the world.

What are your expectations for Jabari Zuniga after a disappointing rookie campaign? Let us know on Facebook @HeavyOnJets, or Twitter @obermuller_nyj and @BoyGreen25.

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