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2021 NFL mock draft: See who Ben Volin thinks the Patriots will pick

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a virtual lock to be taken first overall by Jacksonville.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a virtual lock to be taken first overall by Jacksonville.Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

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The 2021 NFL Draft begins Thursday. The Patriots hold the No. 15 pick in the first round and have needs at a number of positions — offensive tackle, cornerback, linebacker, defensive tackle, safety, and, of course, quarterback.

Ben Volin offers up his mock draft of the first round:

1. Jaguars

Needs: QB, TE, G, LB, CB, S

Projected pick: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Comment: The Jaguars have a lot of needs, and in a different universe, they would take Florida tight end Kyle Pitts because he’s maybe the best playmaker in the draft and the Jaguars don’t have much at that position. But Lawrence is an easy pick, and the Jaguars probably will turn in their draft card before the event starts Thursday night.

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2. Jets

Needs: QB, TE, OT, G, DT, CB

Projected pick: QB Zach Wilson, BYU

Comment: I spoke to a couple of scouts this offseason who weren’t nearly so high on Wilson, who had only one good year at BYU, didn’t play against tough competition, and has a history of shoulder injuries. But other scouts believe he’s a perfect fit for the Kyle Shanahan offense that is now being installed in New York.

3. 49ers

(via Dolphins, via Texans)

Needs: QB, WR, G, TE, DT, LB, CB

Projected pick: QB Mac Jones, Alabama

Comment: This is a tough one. Most draft experts have Jones rated as the fifth-best quarterback, and I’ve seen mock draft after mock draft with Justin Fields in this spot. But the buzz just won’t go away on Jones, who is a more polished quarterback and arguably the most accurate passer in the draft. Some reports have the 49ers taking Jones or North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.

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4. Falcons

Needs: TE, G, QB, RB, DE, DT, LB, CB

Projected pick: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida

Comment: This is where the draft gets interesting. The Falcons are financially committed to Matt Ryan for two more years, so a QB is out. Here’s betting they want to trade down and accumulate more picks as they start over with a new coach and general manager. But if they stay at No. 4, the best fit is clearly Pitts, who fills a big need and projects as an elite pass catcher.

5. Bengals

Needs: OT, WR, G, C, TE, LB, CB, S

Projected pick: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon

Comment: The Bengals will have their pick of talented pass catchers, and if Pitts is on the board, he will be tempting. But the Bengals need offensive line help much more than they need a receiver. Don’t overthink this; take Sewell, the best tackle on the board, and worry about another receiver in the later rounds.

6. Dolphins

(via Eagles)

Needs: WR, G, TE, DE, OT, LB, S

Projected pick: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU

Comment: There is some chatter about the Dolphins trading out of the No. 6 pick, but I don’t see it; they traded from No. 12 to 6 for a reason. It probably was for one of the top pass catchers, and in this case, they get the top receiver on the board and a dynamic playmaker for Tua Tagovailoa.

LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.
LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.John Bazemore/Associated Press

7. Lions

Needs: WR, OT, TE, DT, LB, CB

Projected pick: OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern

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Comment: This was a tough choice, since the Lions have glaring needs at both offensive tackle and receiver. It’s hard to ignore the two Alabama receivers, but receiver is much deeper than offensive tackle. Here’s betting the Lions want to beef up their line first, and Slater is an elite talent.

8. Panthers

Needs: TE, G, C, WR, LB, CB, S

Projected pick: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

Comment: The Panthers likely took themselves out of the QB derby by trading for Sam Darnold, and they probably will look to trade down from No. 8. If they stay, their choice comes down to a top receiver or cornerback. They go with offense and give offensive coordinator Joe Brady a potent new weapon.

9. Broncos

Needs: QB, RB, OT, G, DT, DE, CB

Projected pick: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State

Comment: The Broncos have many needs, particularly on a defense that needs to be rebuilt. But they have been desperately looking for a QB ever since Peyton Manning retired, and they go all-in on Fields, who will initially back up Drew Lock but can take over in 2022 — or sooner.

10. Cowboys

Needs: OT, G, C, TE, DT, DE, LB, CB

Projected pick: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

Comment: The Cowboys could use reinforcements on the offensive line, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they try to trade up to take one of the top two tackles. But they also have a big need at cornerback, and if they stay at No. 10, they have an opportunity to draft the top one on the board.

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11. Giants

Needs: G, C, TE, LB, CB

Projected pick: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State

Comment: Don’t be surprised if the Giants look to trade down, and I could see the Patriots jumping up to this spot to take a QB. If the Giants stay here, it will be tempting to take a cornerback. But GM Dave Gettleman, formerly of the Panthers, loves drafting three-down linebackers, and Parsons can be his next Luke Kuechly.

12. Eagles

(via 49ers)

Needs: WR, G, TE, QB, DT, DE, LB, CB

Projected pick: WR Devonta Smith, Alabama

Comment: The Eagles have a ton of needs as they start over under Nick Sirianni, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they trade down again. But if they stick at No. 12, they have a big need at receiver, and Smith would be a great fit in the offense as the next DeSean Jackson.

13. Chargers

Needs: WR, OT, TE, DE, LB, CB

Projected pick: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

Comment: It’s very enticing to use this pick to get Justin Herbert some help, whether it’s a trade-up for a receiver, or more help on the offensive line, specifically USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker. But they have a massive hole at cornerback and opt to take one of the top prospects.

14. Vikings

Needs: WR, OT, G, TE, DE, DT, LB, CB

Projected pick: DE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

Comment: The Vikings could go several different ways, and Vera-Tucker was another strong consideration at this spot, as Kirk Cousins needs more protection. But the Vikings badly need a pass rusher, and Ojulari projects similarly to Yannick Ngakoue, who played for the Vikings last year.

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15. Patriots

Needs: QB, OT, CB, LB, DT, S

Projected pick: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State

Comment: The Patriots easily could take a cornerback or linebacker at this spot (Tulsa’s Zaven Collins is intriguing). But they were bold in free agency, so why not go bold in the draft and get the QB of the future? They’ll probably have to trade up a few spots, but Lance looks like a great fit. If Lance and Fields are off the board, they should go linebacker or cornerback.

North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.Sam Hodde/Associated Press

16. Cardinals

Needs: TE, DT, DE, LB, CB

Projected pick: DE Kwity Paye, Michigan

Comment: The Cardinals are all-in this year after splurging on a bunch of aging veterans in free agency, and they really should try to package several picks to trade up and get tight end Kyle Pitts. But they have many needs on defense, and Paye, a Rhode Island native, would be a great fit behind J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones.

17. Raiders

Needs: OT, G, QB, DT, LB, CB

Projected pick: T/G Alijah Vera-Tucker, Southern Cal

Comment: The Raiders could go any number of ways with this pick, and one player who would be a great fit is Notre Dame linebacker/safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. But the Raiders need depth at offensive line, and Vera-Tucker probably can play every position but center.

18. Dolphins

Needs: WR, G, TE, DE, OT, LB, S

Projected pick: Notre Dame LB/S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Comment: The Dolphins need pass-rushing help, and it will be tempting to take either of the local favorites, Jaelan Phillips and Greg Rousseau of the University of Miami. But both have far more question marks than Owusu-Koramoah, who has the versatility to thrive in Brian Flores’s defense.

19. Washington

Needs: QB, OT, C, TE, LB, S, CB

Projected pick: OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech

Comment: Washington needs a long-term answer at quarterback and is a threat to trade up and grab one. But if it sticks at 19, the board fits its needs well at offensive tackle, linebacker, and cornerback. It goes with the local kid in Darrisaw, a left tackle who probably can play three or four spots on the line.

20. Bears

Needs: QB, WR, OT, G, DE, CB, S

Projected pick: CB Greg Newsome, Northwestern

Comment: Another team that could make a big trade-up for a quarterback. If the Bears stick here, they could certainly go with help on offense — a tackle like Teven Jenkins or receiver like Kadarius Toney. But they also need a cornerback to replace Kyle Fuller, and Newsome, of nearby Evanston, is a great fit.

21. Colts

Needs: WR, TE, DE, LB, CB

Projected pick: CB Caleb Farley

Comment: The Colts could use another receiver for Carson Wentz, and Kadarius Toney again looks like a good fit. But they also need better depth at several positions on defense, and Farley, who may drop because of recent back surgery, should give a nice boost to the secondary.

22. Titans

Needs: WR, TE, OT, G, DE, DT, CB

Projected pick: DE Jaelan Phillips, Miami

Comment: The Titans aren’t too pleased with this mock draft. They could really use a cornerback, but the top four are gone by the time they pick. However, another big need is pass rush, after they struck out last year with Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley. After spending big money on Bud Dupree, the Titans double down on pass rush with Phillips.

23. Jets

(via Seahawks)

Needs: QB, TE, OT, G, DT, CB

Projected pick: DT Christian Barmore, Alabama

Comment: This might be a bit high for Barmore, but he’s a safe pick and fills a need in the middle of the Jets defense. Another option is offensive tackle Teven Jenkins, but the Jets can fill that need early in the second round. Center/guard Landon Dickerson is worth considering, but his injury history is troubling. Running back Najee Harris also could be in the mix, but the Jets’ new offensive system cranks out running backs.

Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore.
Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore.Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

24. Steelers

Needs: QB, RB, OT, G, C, TE, CB, DE

Projected pick: RB Najee Harris, Alabama

Comment: The Steelers are another candidate to trade up for a quarterback, but it seems like they’re all-in on one more run with Ben Roethlisberger and would prefer a player with instant impact. Enter Harris, a 232-pound wrecking ball who would replace James Conner in the lineup.

25. Jaguars

(via Rams)

Needs: QB, TE, G, LB, CB, S

Projected pick: S Richie Grant, Central Florida

Comment: The Jaguars’ biggest need after taking Lawrence is finding another tight end, but the board matches up better in the second round. They need another interior offensive lineman and better depth at linebacker and cornerback, but Grant, from nearby UCF, fills a major need at single-high safety.

26. Browns

Needs: WR, G, DE, LB, CB

Projected pick: DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami

Comment: The Browns have a surprisingly complete team and few glaring holes. The pick here was almost Florida receiver Kadarius Toney, who can be more of a long-term answer than Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry. But Rousseau has elite potential and will give the Browns frightening depth at edge rusher behind Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney.

27. Ravens

Needs: G, C, WR, TE, DE, CB, S

Projected pick: WR Kadarius Toney, Florida

Comment: Finally, a team snags Toney, a 5-foot-11-inch dynamo who will be a terrific weapon for Lamar Jackson and can hit home runs on kickoff and punt returns. The Ravens still need help at edge rusher, offensive line, and defensive back, but can fill one of those needs with the 31st pick.

28. Saints

Needs: QB, WR, TE, DT, LB, CB, S

Projected pick: WR Elijah Moore, Ole Miss

Comment: The Saints need a quarterback of the future, but probably don’t have enough ammo to trade up. They have a surprising number of roster needs, including a big one at receiver. Moore led the SEC in yards per game last year (149), can play in the slot or outside, and will be a fun weapon for Sean Payton to move around.

29. Packers

Needs: WR, G, DE, LB, CB

Projected pick: WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

Comment: The board fits the Packers well here, and they can have their choice among several talented linebackers, receivers, cornerbacks, and guards. A year after upsetting Aaron Rodgers by drafting a QB, the Packers do him a solid and draft a polished receiver from nearby Minnesota who is ready to produce immediately.

30. Bills

Needs: TE, G, DE, CB, LB

Projected pick: DE Jayson Oweh, Penn State

Comment: The Bills don’t have many holes and can take the best player on their board. They could use some depth and youth at edge rusher, and get a big, freakish athlete in Oweh. He didn’t play a ton at Penn State, but he can play on third downs as a rookie and learn from Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison.

31. Ravens

(via Chiefs)

Needs: G, C, WR, TE, DE, CB, S

Projected pick: T/G Alex Leatherwood, Alabama

Comment: I could definitely see the Ravens picking an edge rusher like Washington’s Joe Tryon or taking talented Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, even if he isn’t the biggest need for them. But they need help on the offensive line and have always loved guys from Alabama. Leatherwood is healthier than college teammate Landon Dickerson and can play guard or tackle right away.

32. Buccaneers

Needs: TE, OT, DE, CB, QB

Projected pick: T/G Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State

Comment: The Bucs re-signed everyone in free agency and don’t have many immediate needs. Tight end is probably the biggest one, but the board doesn’t match up well here. It probably comes down to edge rusher or offensive line, and they opt for a versatile and smart lineman who can protect their soon-to-be 44-year-old franchise QB.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.