Western Michigan linebacker Zaire Barnes, a Jets' fifth-round pick (No. 184 overall) in the 2023 NFL Draft, has signed a rookie contract with the Green & White.
The pick was acquired from the Patriots in addition to New England's fourth-rounder (No. 120 overall) in exchange for the Jets' 10th selection in Round 4 (No. 112 overall). With that 120th selection, the Jets took Pittsburgh T Carter Warren.
In 49 games at Western Michigan, Barnes totaled 205 tackles, 10 PDs and 6 FR. At his pro day, Barnes (6-1, 233) posted a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash in addition to a 34-inch vertical.
"He's got a really good combination of length, speed, size," HC Robert Saleh said after the completion of the draft, which was held in Kansas City, MO. "He is incredibly smart, very instinctive. He played a style of defense that's a little bit different than ours and they asked him to blitz a lot. They do a lot of stuff at Western [Michigan] and it was good, they play good defense over there. We just felt like with his makeup and his versatility and speed, especially his speed, and length, that he would translate really well into our system, so he's going to come in here and get an opportunity to compete for that third spot and contribute on special teams and see where he takes it. Really, really excited about that kid."
After missing the 2020 season due to injury, Barnes, 23, led Western Michigan in tackles in '21 (68) and '22 (94). He registered 5 TFL in each campaign and finished with a career-high 9 PDs last fall. He was not invited to the NFL Combine in February.
"Zaire Barnes from Western Michigan is another guy who is going to be a really good fit in Robert and Coach [Jeff] Ulbrich's defense with size, length, speed, toughness, versatility," GM Joe Douglas said.
Barnes joins a corps of Jets linebackers that includes C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams. Kwon Alexander remains a free agent. Third-year players Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen, each of whom played safety in college, are also in the mix. Barnes also saw time at safety and took pride in his plays on special teams.
"I'm someone who is going to run to the ball, play with a lot of heart," Barnes said. "My love of the game is probably further than most. I'm a guy that doesn't take any rep off and someone that's going to be in the playbook every single day and just learn it like the back of my hand. Someone who is great in coverage and also can be stout in the run game. Someone that's very versatile and takes pride in doing so."