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Kiper on 2021 NFL Draft: TE a need for Jaguars

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

JACKSONVILLE – Trevor Lawrence was barely mentioned.

That was true of pretty much anything regarding the Jaguars' selection at No. 1 overall during ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s first media availability regarding the 2021 NFL Draft.

But with Kiper and many analysts assuming the Jaguars will select Lawrence – a quarterback from Clemson University – No. 1 next month, the Jaguars were still a topic for the long-time analyst during a Monday conference call.

Kiper's primary Jaguars-related topic Monday: tight end.

"Yes, that is a need – and that is one of their top three needs overall," Kiper said.

Kiper projected the draft's consensus top tight end – Kyle Pitts of the University of Florida – being selected well before the Jaguars' second selection, No. 25 overall in Round 1. Kiper said he currently has Pitts as a top five selection, and that Pitts by late April could be the draft's second-rated player behind Lawrence.

"When you look at Kyle Pitts … Top 5, fourth pick overall possibly to [the] Atlanta [Falcons]," Kiper said. "He's in that Top 5 overall."

Kiper projected Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth with a second-round grade, mentioning Hunter Long from Boston College with a third-or-fourth-round grade. He also mentioned Tre' McKitty of Georgia, John Bates from Boise State, Brevin Jordan of Miami and Tommy Tremble of Notre Dame and Noah Gray of Duke.

"There will be a lot of tight ends," he said. "It depends on which ones they like. They're all a little different, but they all certainly would be possibilities for Jacksonville in this draft."


While Lawrence wasn't a primary topic for Kiper Monday, other projected first-round quarterbacks were heavily discussed. Notably: Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson, who many project as the draft's No. 2 quarterback prospect after Lawrence. "He was great for one year against a cupcake schedule," Kiper said of Wilson, who threw 33 touchdowns with three interceptions in 2020 after throwing 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2018-2019. "That's the one thing: Playing pitch and catch against inferior opposition is the concern. There's no question with the arm strength and the release. There's a lot to like about Zach Wilson. I have a high grade on him, but he didn't do it over a three-year period. There were times early in his career he was holding the ball, fumbling the ball. He had some bad interceptions, made some bad decisions. He got better in terms of recognition and figuring out what the defense is doing. He improved in every aspect of playing the quarterback position." Kiper projected Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields around No. 7 overall, though Kiper added that he has Fields as the draft's No. 2 quarterback. Kiper said many teams are grading Fields lower because of struggles in games against Indiana and Northwestern in 2020. "Holding those two games against him, I think, is unfair," he said. Kiper also said he expects Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones to be selected in Round 1. "I would be very surprised if one [of the five] dropped to [No.] 20,'' Kiper said. "The quarterbacks always get forced up higher than they probably should. In this case, I don't necessarily think they're getting forced up. That's where they're graded out to go and that's where they should go based on their rating."


Kiper said a recent trend of strong receiver classes likely will continue in 2021, calling wide receiver "the strongest position overall in this draft." Many analysts project three wide receivers in the Top 10: Ja'Marr Chase of Louisiana State and DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle of Alabama. Chase, who opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns, has been projected by many as the first receiver selected. Smith won the Heisman Trophy in 2020, with Waddle missing much of the 2020 season with a high-ankle sprain. "Both of these guys love to play the game," Kiper said of Smith and Waddle. "They're both very competitive players, both very versatile. I like Smith a little better, but Waddle's right there. If not for the ankle, we might have been having a really good debate there – had he finished the year strong and put up the numbers he would have been capable of putting up had he played at 100 percent. Both are going to be really good players."

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