The Western Michigan Broncos arrived to the 2023 NFL Draft in the early portion of the sixth round. Outside linebacker Zaire Barnes was selected by the New York Jets with the 184th overall selection, becoming the third player taken directly out of the Mid-American Conference this April.
Barnes’ sixth round selection ensured Western Michigan its third consecutive year of churning out at least one NFL Draft pick. He was the first Bronco linebacker drafted since renowned actor Terry Crews went to the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round of 1991.
At Western Michigan, Barnes was a two-time All-MAC honoree, receiving Second Team designation in 2021 before upgrading his status to First Team in 2022. Barnes committed to the program in 2018 and spent two years as a full-time starter, conspicuously refining his game during his time in Kalamazoo. As a junior, he tallied 68 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks, and as a senior his contributions included 93 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 1.0 sack.
Barnes was arguably the highest-regarded coverage linebacker in the conference, deflecting eight passes last season in addition to securing his first career interception. He contributed heavily in the turnover department with six fumble recoveries across his two years as a starter, as well as two forced fumbles.
Despite being snubbed of an NFL Combine invite, Barnes’ Pro Day showing wowed scouts and sharply escalated his draft stock. He posted elite speed numbers for an outside linebacker, clocking in at 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash while also excelling in the broad jump (10 feet, 3 inches) and 3-cone drill (8.06 seconds). Barnes also participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl where he posted a game-high six tackles and returned an interception 26 yards.
Barnes joins a New York Jets defense which typically runs a 4-2-5 scheme. There is a litany of young talent at the outside linebacker position, which is headlined by Quincy Williams and supported by recent draft picks Hamsah Nasirildeen and Chazz Surratt. He also teams up with a former Western Michigan legend in Corey Davis, who serves as a wide receiver for the Jets.