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Mel Kiper Jr. unveils Patriots projection in new 2024 NFL mock draft

Mel Kiper Jr. unveils Patriots projection in new 2024 NFL mock draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The 2024 NFL Draft is about a month away, and there's still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the top 10 picks in the first round.

It's assumed that the first three picks -- maybe the first four? -- will be quarterbacks. USC's Caleb Williams, LSU's Jayden Daniels and UNC's Drake Maye are the consensus top three QBs in this class. Michigan's J.J. McCarthy seems to be rising quickly up draft boards, too, and could be a top 15 selection.

What might be a little more unclear is which teams will be making these picks. The Chicago Bears and Washington Commanders desperately need a quarterback and own the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, respectively. The New England Patriots own the No. 3 pick and badly need a QB as well, but could they be enticed to trade down and stockpile more quality picks?

ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. published a new 2024 NFL mock draft on Tuesday. He's sticking with his Maye-to-the-Patriots projection from previous mock drafts, but he doesn't sound as confident as before.

"Just like the two teams picking before them, the Patriots traded away their top quarterback from last season, as Mac Jones was sent to Jacksonville last week," Kiper wrote in his analysis. "New England wouldn't pass up a quarterback here, right? I'm not as confident as I was before free agency began. The Patriots signed Jacoby Brissett to a one-year deal, and he could be the bridge option to a rookie. But then when you look at their other signings, are we sure they're not thinking beyond 2024 already?

"What I'm saying is: If a team that fell in love with the third quarterback in this class offered a bevy of draft capital, wouldn't New England have to consider moving down? That would give the organization multiple first-round picks to improve the entire roster, both this year and in 2025. This is not a team likely to compete this season. Las Vegas, Denver, Minnesota could be options. Sliding down a few spots would still allow the Patriots to add a rookie starter at receiver or offensive tackle, both positions which are deep in Round 1."

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The Patriots should consider a trade down if they can acquire a 2025 first-round pick in the deal, especially if it's from a team unlikely to be competitive next season.

But a strong case can also be made for staying at No. 3 and taking the best quarterback available. The Patriots have a very strong defense. They might actually be a good quarterback away from being decent in 2024. Competing for a wild card playoff spot is unlikely, but it's hard to imagine the Patriots going 4-13 again.

It's so hard to find elite quarterbacks, and the best way to acquire them is through the draft. Seven of the eight teams that reached the Divisional Round of last season's playoffs had starting quarterbacks who were first-round picks. The Patriots might not have another pick this high in Round 1 for a while. Therefore, it makes the most sense to take Daniels or Maye at No. 3 and build around them.