NY Jets bolster LB and special teams depth with Zaire Barnes draft pick
By Justin Fried
The NY Jets love their safety-turned-linebackers, and sixth-round pick Zaire Barnes fits the bill. The Jets selected Barnes with the 184th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
A two-year starter at Western Michigan, Barnes put together a standout senior season that saw him finish with a team-leading 93 tackles en route to being named first-team All-MAC.
Barnes is a little undersized at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, but he tested well at his pro day and received an impressive 9.12 Relative Athletic Score. He's a well above-average athlete who should contribute early on special teams.
After selecting three straight offensive players, the Jets went back to the defensive side of the ball with the addition of Barnes. He joins a Jets linebacker room that features many of the same players from last year.
What can we expect of Zaire Barnes with the NY Jets?
Barnes is a former high school safety and running back who originally committed to Western Michigan as a safety before switching to linebacker following a torn ACL in 2020.
He was widely seen as a late-Day 2 or priority free-agent prospect in this class, so this is about where he was expected to go. The Jets likely see Barnes as more of a special-teams contributor than anything.
There's a chance that Barnes could compete for the starting SAM linebacker role this summer. After all, that is the position he primarily played at Western Michigan.
Right now, former Day 3 picks Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen are his projected competition, but the Jets remain interested in re-signing veteran Kwon Alexander as well.
Ultimately, Barnes is likely to push for a roster spot as a special teamer. His upside is limited (he turns 24 in September), but Barnes could stick around as a dime linebacker and core special-teams contributor.