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Lunchbreak: ESPN's Projections for NFL Draft's 1st Round

We made it, everyone.

The 2024 NFL Draft is kicking off Thursday night, and all the speculation and mock drafts will be tested against the reality of how the board plays out.

ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., on Thursday morning released a "20 things to know" ahead of Round 1, which is slated to start at 7 p.m. (CT).

Kiper's list of 20 topics included predictions, wild-card teams he finds "head-scratching" and teams that could make first-round trades. In the latter category, he included Minnesota and four other teams (Chargers, Eagles, Bills, Jets) as potential trade candidates. Kiper, who is working his 41st NFL Draft for ESPN, wrote the following of the Vikings:

This is the team to watch to get into the top 10 for a quarterback, most likely J.J. McCarthy (Michigan). But I don't think the Vikings necessarily have to move into the top five. They might be able to move up only a few spots – maybe in a trade with the Falcons at No. 8? – to get McCarthy. Minnesota owns Nos. 11 and 23 in Round 1, thanks to its trade last month with the Texans.

It's worth mentioning Kiper's notes on the Chargers, as well, since they've shown up in a couple mock drafts as possible trade partners if Minnesota does try to move up.

As I mentioned, the Chargers have major needs at wide receiver and tackle, but they might be able to fill those needs farther down the board. If a team wants to trade up for a quarterback or wideout, L.A. could pick up some valuable capital in its mini rebuild under [Head Coach] Jim Harbaugh. I could see the Chargers moving down a few spots and still getting [J.C.] Latham, who fits Harbaugh's smashmouth, old-school style.

Outside of trade scenarios, let's take a look at a few of Kiper's Round 1 predictions.

Kiper believes quarterbacks Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye will be drafted first, second and third, respectively. Another of his predictions was that Washington QB Michael Penix, Jr., "won't fall past 13."

The Washington quarterback is liked by several teams with picks in the teens, but I don't think he'll last past the Raiders at No. 13. That's a little rich for my tastes – he finished No. 24 on my Big Board – but there are several teams looking for their quarterback of the future in this class, and his accuracy, experience and moxie make him appealing.

Kiper also predicted Tennessee will stay pat at No. 7 in order to take a tackle or wide receiver.

Tennessee's need at offensive tackle is too great; it can't afford to trade down. Right? But what if wide receiver Rome Odunze (Washington) is available? My second-ranked receiver would be awfully appealing, especially if [Notre Dame tackle Joe] Alt is off the board. I still think the most likely scenario is the Titans taking Alt and starting a run on [offensive tackles] – we could see six or seven more in the top 32. Alt, my No. 1 tackle, is exactly the player the Titans need to protect Will Levis' blind side.

The last Kiper prediction we'll highlight here is that this draft will break the record for most offensive players selected in Round 1.

There have been 19 offensive players taken in the top 32 picks three times – 1968, 2004 and 2009. We might see 21 this year, and we'll definitely get 20. In fact, one of the final guys might be quarterback Bo Nix (Oregon), who would be the sixth QB in Round 1, which would tie the record from 1983. We know teams value the fifth-year option for players, and it's given only to first-rounders. I could see a team trading into get Nix late in the first round.

Click here to read Kiper's full "20 things to know."

Goessling mocks Maye to Vikings at No. 3 after trade

Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune released a final mock draft Thursday morning, and he projected Minnesota to be aggressive in getting a QB.

Goessling projected that the Vikings will trade pick Nos. 11 and 23 this year, plus a 2025 first-rounder, in exchange for New England's No. 3 and No. 193 picks. He wrote:

One of the biggest trades in Vikings history lands the quarterback the Vikings hope will lead them to the promised land. They've been impressed with Maye since last year, and they'll develop him with Josh McCown — one of Maye's former high school coaches — leading the quarterback room. Maye dealt with bouts of inaccuracy in his final year at UNC, but his 2022 season showed him at his best: confident, mobile and a powerful enough arm to throw downfield and hit shots over the middle. The Vikings would prefer to begin the year with the 21-year-old Maye backing up Sam Darnold, but if he can flourish in a Kevin O'Connell-led development process, he could be the coach's answer to Matthew Stafford in Los Angeles.

Goessling said additional options for the Vikings would be Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy (assuming the Patriots draft Maye and a trade to No. 4 or No. 5 by Minnesota), LSU QB Jayden Daniels (assuming he is not already picked) or Texas DT Byron Murphy II (if the Vikings stay pat at No. 11).

The Vikings aren't currently slated to have another pick until Round 4. If that remains the case, Goessling mocked Oregon CB Khyree Jackson to Minnesota with the 108th overall pick and Louisville CB Jarvis Brownlee, Jr., at 129.

Jackson's size (6-3, 195 pounds) could be deployed in a similar manner to how the Vikings hope to use [Shaq] Griffin this season, but his real value might be as an eventual replacement for a veteran once he fills out and improves at matching receivers' breaks. He ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, and he's shown himself to be a capable run defender who isn't afraid to be physical.

Goessling said Brownlee would "fit as a nickel corner behind Byron Murphy, Jr., and also contribute on special teams.

He's only [5-foot-10] but isn't afraid to challenge receivers and stood out at the Senior Bowl, where he had an interception during the game and was named the top corner on his team during the practice week.

Click here to read Goessling's entire mock draft.