Zaire Barnes, OLB, Western Michigan | NFL Draft Scouting Report

Zaire Barnes has an uphill climb to hearing his name called during the 2023 NFL Draft. Will a strong athletic profile make the difference?

Linebackers are rapidly becoming among the better all-around athletes on NFL rosters. Your off-ball linebacker can no longer just be a downhill thumper who stuffs the run. With the proliferation of pass-catching tight ends, running backs involved in the passing game, etc., linebackers must have the skills to be stout enough to take on double-teams and cover down the field.

It only takes one team for Zaire Barnes to hear his name during the 2023 NFL Draft. What could cause a team to make that call is detailed below in Barnes’ curated scouting report.

Zaire Barnes NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Outside Linebacker
  • School: Western Michigan
  • Year: Fifth-Year Senior

Barnes was ranked as the 45th player overall in Illinois by 247 Sports coming out of high school. He was named Class 7A honorable mention all-state as a running back and safety, and a two-time all-conference, all-area selection, and an all-state pick in 2017.

That same year he was named MVP and twice named most valuable running back. Barnes had 77 tackles (28 solo), scored six touchdowns, and totaled 51 carries for 458 yards, averaging almost nine yards per carry.

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In his freshman year at Western Michigan, Barnes played in all 13 games and totaled 15 tackles. The following year, he appeared in 11 games with four starts and totaled 29 tackles. He also had 3.5 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, and two QB pressures.

Barnes missed the 2020 pandemic-shortened season due to injury but returned in 2021 to take a big step forward as a player. He appeared in a career-high 13 games and tied for the team lead in tackles with a career-high 68, while also recording five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and three fumble recoveries. The effort got him named second-team All-MAC.

Barnes saved his best for last in his final season. Leading the team with 94 tackles (including five for loss), 1.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, and an interception, Barnes appeared in all 12 games and, this time, was named to the All-Mac’s first team. He also finished with a career-high eight pass breakups.

Zaire Barnes Scouting Report

Strengths: Athletic linebacker who makes plays all over the field. Fluid flipping his hips in transition, goes sideline to sideline, and covers a lot of area. Gets depth on pass drops, easily runs downfield with ball carriers or tight ends, and has a closing burst. Quickly picks up coverage assignments, immediately gets into space to make plays, and takes proper angles.

Weaknesses: Small and gets controlled by tight ends and running backs. Lacks great growth potential.

Overall: Barnes is a fierce and fast one-gap defender who makes plays in pursuit and in coverage. His ability to quickly get to the action and make the tackle is appealing and could help him catch on as a backup LB in a 3-4 alignment.

Zaire Barnes Combine Measurements and Results

The NFL Scouting Combine gives us a great opportunity to see how players stack up in various testing environments. Luckily, PFN has full databases of both NFL Combine measurements and NFL Combine results. Below is everything you need to know from Barnes’ Combine performance.

  • Height: 6013
  • Weight: 233 pounds
  • Arm: 32
  • Hand: 9
  • Bench Press: 20
  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.56 seconds

Zaire Barnes Current Draft Projection

According to Tony Pauline’s Big Board, Barnes is projected to be a priority free agent and go undrafted. He is Tony’s 55th-best available OLB and ranked No. 593 overall.

Barnes’ Relative Athletic Score of 9.11 is considered “great.” His size is about average for the position, perhaps a bit undersized regarding his weight. At 20 reps, his bench press was considered “good.” Some scouts may like to see that higher, but functionally, the bench has little bearing on football ability. It’s actually more of a test of effort, based on how simple it is to improve one’s bench reps. Scouts use it as a litmus test to see who got in the weight room.

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For speed, Barnes is considered “elite.” His 4.56 40-yard dash time is also considered elite for the position and his size, as is his 10-yard split — showing good burst out of his stance.

Additionally, Barnes had a great broad-jump score, jumping over 10 feet, and he’s average as an explosive vertical jumper. Agility is another strong point for Barnes, as his three-cone drill was great, with an average short-shuttle time.

Coming out of Western Michigan, Barnes had a decent college résumé. He possesses NFL-level athletic traits that could see several teams look to develop him within their system. To get his career started, he’ll likely need to contribute to special teams. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Rams and hometown Detroit Lions could be good fits for Barnes.

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