Jordan Kunaszyk (it’s pronounced kuh-NAW-shick, by the way) is another of Ron Rivera’s “lost boys” from Carolina. He has 269 career NFL snaps across two seasons, with two different teams, but only 7 defensive snaps in his pro linebacking career, and those came all in a single game in the final week of the Carolina Panthers 2019 season.
In short, Kunaszyk is a special teamer, which puts him squarely on the bubble for training camp. To his credit, he seems to be a good special teamer — after all, he’s appeared in 15 career games in two seasons after being signed as an undrafted free agent, and his head coach brought him along from Carolina to Washington. In fact, Rivera and Kunaszyk are going into their third training camp together.
All of this suggests to me that Kunaszyk has a puncher’s chance at sticking on the initial 53-man roster, and a very strong likelihood of appearing in multiple regular season games in 2021, even if he does not survive the final cut down in August and ends up on the Practice Squad for Week 1.
PFF seems to like Kunaszyk a much as Washington's coaches do; they gave him a special teams grade of 71.0 in 2019 and 71.4 in 2020.
Jordan Kunaszyk is listed at 6’3” and 235 pounds on the Washington team website. He is 24 years old, and played his final three seasons of college ball for the University of California, Berkley, in his home state. As a senior, Kunaszyk made 148 tackles (11 for loss), four sacks and five forced fumbles with three pass breakups and an interception, and he was named first team All-Pac-12 Conference and second team All-America by Sports Illustrated.
Here’s Kunaszyk in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle before the 2019 NFL draft:
“What can I do to make myself a better football player? I can watch more film. I can get an extra edge,” Kunaszyk said. “Even if I can make just one extra play that impacts the team and helps us win, then it was worth it.”
The linebacker, of course, ended up in Carolina after that draft. The Panthers’ GM at the time was Marty Hurney, now an influential member of Ron Rivera’s ruling junta in Washington. Here’s what Hurney said about Kunaszyk at the time:
Gosh, there are so many things about Jordan, He had a terrific preseason and training camp. He made plays. He’s a guy who studies all the time. He’s just going to get better and better.
We just feel like we had a young linebacker who really has the skill set, has our DNA, has the approach down and we just didn’t want to risk putting him out there. I think he would have been a guy teams would have found attractive. He’s just going to get better and better, and he gives us good depth.
Given that Rivera, Hurney and Kunaszyk are all now together in Washington, with Kunaszyk heading into his 3rd year with Rivera and his 2nd with special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the coaches must still feel good about the young linebacker.
The Carolina Panthers team website did a good background piece on Kunaszyk when he was signed to the regular season roster in Week 1 of the 2019 season.
Here’s the backstory on Kunaszyk: He was hardly recruited coming out of high school so he went the junior college route. Then he made his way to Cal, where he worked his way into the starting lineup as a junior.
He put it all together as a senior captain for the Bears, posting 148 tackles (fifth-most in FBS), 11.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and five forced fumbles. That production earned him second-team All-America honors from Sports Illustrated.
But the 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker wasn’t drafted. His 4.82 40-yard dash was always going to be a tough number for teams grading him.
“Of course I was disappointed,” Kunaszyk said. “I felt like the body of work I did in college, how productive, being a team captain – I feel like I checked all the boxes from a character standpoint as well. I feel like the body of work should have gotten me drafted.”
“My journey has always been this way,” he added. “I went junior college out of high school, had no offers. I came to Cal and started at the bottom and worked my way to the top. So those experiences I already endured put me in a position to when I got here it was no different. I had been in this position a couple times. It allowed me to know that I could overcome.”
Kunaszyk was a bit of a surprise to Carolina fans when he made the roster in 2019, so he got a fair bit of attention at the time, and several people wrote about him. This quote comes from The Riot Report, and, while it is a quote that is nearly two years old, I suspect it explains Kunaszyk’s current mindset as well:
“I know that it is a day-to-day thing and I have to continue to prove that I’m meant to be here and I can help the team win,” Kunaszyk said after practice on Monday, “So I haven’t made it. When you think you’ve made it, [you’re] going to get complacent. I’m nowhere near where I want to be as a football player. I have so many areas where I want to be as a football player [and] I have so many areas that I want to grow in.”
“So I’m going to continue to work at it every single day and put myself in the position to help this team win every single day.”
That might sound like standard player-speak until you remember how Ron Rivera treats players depending on their attitudes. This is a head coach who puts culture and attitude ahead of on-field performance, though obviously, he values both.
Jordan Kunaszyk fits in the category of players who inhabit the world of special teams, backups and practice squads in the NFL. Often, these guys aren’t on the roster in Week 1, but they are in Week 17 or 18 when injuries take their toll during a long season. That alone would be a good reason to know who No. 59 is.
Kunaszyk, after all, appears to be a guy likely to spend more weeks on the regular roster than on the practice squad. That said, he managed to appear in 6 games for Washington in the latter half of 2020 — a team that struggled with linebacker play throughout the season — without ever getting a snap on defense. That says a lot about what he needs to do to make the WFT roster again in 2021. If Kunaszyk is going to be a Washington Football Teamer, he’s going to do it by excelling on special teams to the point where the coaching staff will make room for him on the roster. Otherwise, you may not have to worry about how to pronounce his name.