ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projected in his latest mock draft published Monday that the New England Patriots will trade up from No. 15 overall to No. 10 later this month to select Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
In this hypothetical scenario, Fields would be the fifth QB taken in the draft — behind Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars), Zach Wilson (No. 2 to the New York Jets), Mac Jones (No. 3 to the San Francisco 49ers) and Trey Lance (No. 6 to the Atlanta Falcons, after a mock trade with the Miami Dolphins).
As such, Kiper was asked Tuesday on ESPN’s “First Take” whether New England would be landing the “steal” of the 2021 NFL Draft. And the longtime draft expert didn’t disagree.
“Could be,” Kiper said. “I think he’s the second-best quarterback in this draft, and we’ve seen the third quarterback — the fourth, fifth and sixth quarterbacks over the years — turn out to be a lot better than some of the guys that went ahead of them, and I think that’ll be the case with Justin Fields.
“If you can get him at 10, if he even drops a little further than that, which is possible. I thought about maybe Denver at 9. New England at 15 — do they just sit there and wait for him to fall in their lap? I didn’t think so. That’s why I have New England jumping up to 10 to get Justin Fields in a division where now you have Tua (Tagovailoa), Zach Wilson and the great Josh Allen. So, all of a sudden now you are a team that has to close that gap or even things up in terms of your quarterback in a division you dominated with Tom Brady for 20 years.”
Stephen A. Smith then interjected, seemingly perplexed at how Fields could last until No. 10. There was a point not too long ago when Fields was widely considered the second-best QB available, behind Lawrence. Now, Kiper is wondering how far the former Buckeyes star will slip down the board?
“If he ends being where I think he will go, based on my rankings,” Kiper said of the possibility that Fields winds up being the steal of the draft. “But there are teams that have him as the fifth quarterback and disagree with me on that. So there’s no consensus on Justin Fields being eventually a great quarterback in the NFL. I think he will be, but to answer your question, for me, yes, he would be a steal. For other teams, they would say, ‘No, he’s not a steal. He’s going about where he should.’ Or maybe for some of those teams, maybe higher than he should.”
Not only might the team that ultimately drafts Fields get a really talented player. They also could be getting a really motivated player, whose NFL career will begin with a chip on his shoulder.
“Normally, the quarterback that does fall, nine times, eight times out of 10, he turns out to be really, really good and makes teams pay for letting that quarterback slide down as far as they did,” Kiper said.