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Jets' First 6th-Round Pick in 2023 NFL Draft Is Western Michigan LB Zaire Barnes

Versatile Defender Posted 206 Tackles, 6 Fumble Recoveries and 1 INT over 49 Career Games with Broncos

DraftPick-16x9 (5)

The Jets, who already selected Pitt tackle Carter Warren with the first pick they got from trading their fourth-round selection to New England, moved on to the Patriots' second pick in that trade and selected linebacker Zaire Barnes out of Western Michigan at No. 184 overall in Round 6.

What they've gotten in Barnes (6-1, 227) is a jack of all trades and a master of many. For starters, he played safety in Illinois high school and when he started out his college carer at WMU before shifting to LB — a transition that Jets head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are known to favor.

"It allowed me to stay mentally focused on a different-type level," he said after his selection. "I feel like ti just helped me with the mental side of things, seeing different perspectives. It showed teams that coaches put trust in me to do the job and to do more than one job."

One of those jobs with the Jets no doubt will be contributing on kick coverage and returns. But Barnes sounded like, with apologies to John Fogerty, the quintessential "Put me in, Coach, I'm ready to play special teams."

"I take so much pride in it," he said. "I walked in there as a freshman and understood what it took to get on the field. I respected that part of the game to the highlest level. Every year I was at Western Michigan, I played special teams. I didn't want to take a down off. If that was my role on the team, I'm here to do that."

But sooner or later, his job will be as a 'backer who can move forward and back and occasionally pry a turnover loose. His college numbers imply that he'll be able to do that. He  appeared in all 12 games as a senior and led the Broncos with a career-high 94 tackles, including five for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also recovered three fumbles and intercepted a pass, with those achievements lifting him to All-MAC first team.

And for his WMU career he played in 49 games despite missing the 2020 season due to an ACL injury and totaled 206 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 4.0 sacks, six fumble recoveries and that first college INT.

Barnes didn't participate in the NFL Combine but he did play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and he was one of the Jets' 30 predraft visits, during which he took one of Saleh's mantras to heart.

"The NFL has always been a dream of mine, so every single day I'd wake up and go chase that dream," he said. "I heard 'All gas, no brake' at my visit and the Jets were a collective unit. That's what I really love. Football is a team sport and that's what they teach over there."

Barnes is the fifth Western Michigan player drafted and only the second since the start of the AFL-NFL Common Draft in 1967. And of those four, none had a pro start and only one, seventh-round WR Jordan White in 2012, even played in a Jets game. White actually played in three games that year and after a sick 140-catch senior season for the Broncos, managed only one catch in his pro career.

Those all sound like trends that Zaire Barnes is intent on changing, maybe even the pass-catching part. As he said, he's determined to do the job and to do more than one job.

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