Mel Kiper Jr.'s new 2021 NFL Mock Draft projects bold Patriots trade

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Nick Goss
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Mel Kiper Jr.'s new NFL Mock Draft projects bold Patriots trade originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots are one of the most intriguing teams entering the 2021 NFL Draft.

They would be smart to upgrade at quarterback given the struggles of Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham last season. But for the Patriots to select one of the top five quarterbacks in the 2021 draft class, they will probably need to trade up in the first round.

The Patriots won't be on the clock until No. 15 overall, and there's a good chance all five QBs -- Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, BYU's Zach Wilson, Ohio State's Justin Fields, Alabama's Mac Jones and North Dakota State's Trey Lance -- won't be on the board at that time.

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ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. published his latest 2021 NFL Mock Draft on Tuesday morning, and he projects the Patriots to trade with the Dallas Cowboys for the No. 10 pick and use it to take Fields. Kiper's mock trade includes the Patriots sending the Cowboys pick No. 15 and a 2022 first-rounder in exchange for No. 10.

Here's his explanation for the pick:

"This makes five quarterbacks in the top 10, with Bill Belichick & Co. making the move up for Fields, my second-ranked quarterback. All the moves the Patriots made in free agency showed me that they believe they can get right back into competing for the AFC East title, but I don't think Cam Newton is the quarterback to get them there. He had too many accuracy issues last season. He's not the long-term answer. Fields had an up-and-down 2020 season, but he can be a star if he becomes more consistent. And I trust that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will get him there."

This isn't the first mock draft to project the Patriots trading up to take Fields. Several recent mock drafts have laid out the same scenario, and some think the Patriots would have to move up to at least No. 7 in the first round to acquire the Buckeyes star.

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Opinions on Fields also vary quite a bit. You'll read experts who view him as the No. 2 quarterback in this class behind Lawrence (as Kiper does), while others see Fields as the No. 5 player at the position. 

Fields completed 70.2 percent of his passes 2,100 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in eight games last season. He also ran for 383 yards and five rushing touchdowns.

If the Patriots don't take a quarterback in the first round, it might make more sense to stay at No. 15 and select one of the top defensive players on the board. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has hit on many of his first-round picks used on defensive players.