The New York Jets hope to once again produce an elite defense in 2023. With Aaron Rodgers now leading the offense, the Jets believe they can compete for a playoff spot. Although all the fanfare is focused on other parts of the roster, it’s the Jets’ linebacker corps that has a major impact on their ability to compete.
We dive into the Jets’ linebacker depth chart and project who will be the starters and backups in 2023.
New York Jets LB Depth Chart
The top of the Jets’ linebacker corps is quite good.
While most major free agent deals fizzle out by the time the guaranteed money runs out, the Jets’ splurge on middle linebacker C.J. Mosley has been a major hit. Since signing with the team in 2019, Mosley has totaled 335 tackles, three sacks, 11 pass breakups, and two interceptions in three seasons. He opted out of the 2020 season but has been the face of the defense otherwise.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh has consistently praised Mosley’s ability to anchor the unit. He described Mosley as “grossly overlooked” across the league because he continually does what it takes for the team to compete, including playing almost 98% of defensive snaps last year. That’s high praise for someone who has also coached Bobby Wagner and Fred Warner.
But Mosley isn’t alone as a standout on the unit. His running mate is Quincy Williams, who played 70% of the defensive snaps last year.
While Mosely led the team with 158 tackles, Williams finished with 106 in 15 games, then re-signed for three years before hitting the open market because he loved playing with his brother, Quinnen Williams.
Mosley and Quincy Williams are one of the best linebacker tandems in the NFL, but the Jets don’t have proven depth beyond them. Veteran Kwon Alexander departed in free agency, leaving many wondering who will step up.
Will Zaire Barnes Be the Primary Backup?
Alexander, who played 50% of defensive snaps for the Jets in 2022, is a unique athlete at the linebacker position. The Jets understandably let him walk in free agency, but Alexander’s speed and versatility as a rusher gave them a unique presence. After a rash of injuries, his ability failed to translate into production.
The Jets have added athletic projects to their roster over the last few years. Saleh once called 2021 fifth-round pick Jamien Sherwood a “staple” of what’s to come for the Jets because of his long, athletic frame that allowed him to play safety at Auburn. But an Achilles injury as a rookie led to him playing only 25 defensive snaps in 2022.
With Sherwood relegated to special teams, the Jets drafted Zaire Barnes in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Unlike Sherwood and 2021 sixth-round former safety-turned-linebacker Hamsah Nasirildeen, Barnes is a natural linebacker. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah called Barnes an “outstanding blitzer,” and Saleh lauded his “combination of length, speed, [and] speed.”
Barnes best fits the team’s hopes for Alexander. While Sherwood and Nasirildeen may be better coverage options because of their more slender builds and backgrounds as safeties, the Jets haven’t relied on their linebackers to star in coverage often.
Because of this, Barnes will have the best chance to be the unit’s top backup and third linebacker over his peers.