Mel Kiper Jr. 2021 Mock Draft: Patriots Trade for Trey Lance; Fields to Broncos

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IApril 29, 2021

Mel Kiper Jr. is seen on the set of ESPN SportsCenter, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
Steve Luciano/Associated Press

All offseason, NFL experts and analysts have been trying to project the first round (and maybe more) of the 2021 NFL draft. Some have been working on their mocks for even longer than that, as there were predictions made while the 2020 season was still going on.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. is one of the most notable draft gurus who has been trying to figure out how the 2021 draft will unfold.

Kiper has projected the first round of the draft ahead of Thursday's first round. Kiper also released his final big board Wednesday, showing how he ranks the top 150 prospects and the top 500 players by position in this year's class.

Here's a look at Kiper's top 10 picks:

  • 1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
  • 2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
  • 3. San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
  • 4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
  • 5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
  • 6. Miami Dolphins: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
  • 7. New England Patriots (via Detroit): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
  • 8. Carolina Panthers: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
  • 9. Denver Broncos: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
  • 10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

One of the big questions leading up to the NFL draft has been trying to figure out what the San Francisco 49ers will do with the No. 3 overall pick. The only two players they likely won't be able to get are Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, the projected top two picks.

Kiper has long believed that the 49ers will take Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, as he noted the buzz he was hearing from around the league in his latest mock. And he still thought Jones is heading to San Francisco during an appearance on Get Up on Monday.

"It's going to be Mac Jones or Trey Lance—that's the decision, not Justin Fields," Kiper said. "I gave it like 70 percent Jones, 20 percent Lance, 10 percent Fields, and I would probably maintain that."

Kyle Pitts is the first non-quarterback taken in Kiper's mock, landing with the Falcons with the No. 4 pick. Kiper has the tight end ranked second on his final big board, behind only Lawrence, so it's clear he's high on the former Gators standout.

"Like Lawrence, Pitts has one of the highest grades I've ever given at the position, but he's more than a tight end," Kiper wrote. "He's an offensive weapon who will immediately improve a team picking in the top five."

Some mocks have Pitts going to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 5, but in Kiper's, Pitts won't be available at that point. Instead, he has the Bengals selecting Chase over Sewell.

That would make sense for Cincinnati, which needs to add some supporting players to its offense to help quarterback Joe Burrow continue to improve.

With Lawrence, Wilson and Jones going with the first three picks in Kiper's mock (which are popular predictions), that leaves Lance and Fields as the top quarterbacks on the board.

Kiper has Lance going No. 7 to the Patriots, in a projected trade-up. According to Kiper, this will take "at least the No. 15 overall pick and New England's 2022 first-rounder." 

Fields goes off the board two picks later in Kiper's mock, with the Broncos taking the Ohio State quarterback despite Wednesday's trade for Teddy Bridgewater.

Of the two, Kiper is higher on Fields, who is ranked No. 8 overall on his big board, which makes him the second-highest-rated quarterback behind only Lawrence.

"Fields had an inconsistent 2020 season, but his highs were even higher than Lawrence's," Kiper wrote. "I think consistency will come with NFL coaching because he has all of the tools to be a star."

Kiper has made predictions throughout the lead-up to the draft. Now, it's nearly time for the event to begin and to see which projections were right. Kiper will again be part of ESPN's draft coverage.