Longtime ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released his latest mock draft this week, a pick-by-pick forecast of the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.

His Patriots projection was not all that it seemed.

At No. 23 overall, Kiper wrote the Pats will pick Washington quarterback Jacob Eason. Kiper explained Wednesday he’s confident Eason will be drafted there, though perhaps not by the Patriots.

“I gave Eason to New England as a possibility for them or a trade,” he told the Herald.

Kiper explained projecting trades is not permitted when writing his mock drafts. But ...

“(Trades are) what usually happens in that 23-to-32 range, where people trade in to get that quarterback.”

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, famously went 32nd overall two drafts ago, when Baltimore traded back into the first round to select him. If Eason goes to New England, Kiper could see him sitting behind Tom Brady for a year — should Brady re-sign — or competing with Jarrett Stidham for the job right away. Kiper believes Eason’s ceiling exceeds Sitdham’s.

The former Husky completed 64.2% of his passes for 3,132 yards, 23 touchdowns and eight picks last season. Eason transferred to Washington from Georgia in 2018. He’s projected as a late first-round or second-round pick.

“Eason has a rocket arm. And he has imposing size at 6-5, 6-6, 235 pounds. He had some strong performances (last season). Now, he did not have consistent ones against elite teams from the first quarter to the fourth, and by that I mean in the fourth quarter, there’s some throws he could’ve been more accurate with, some things he needed to do in terms of play-making in the fourth quarter that didn’t happen.

“That’s why (Washington) lost leads to Oregon and Utah. They lost four or five games by six points or less. So he’s not perfect. He’s got to improve in some areas. But you can’t teach the kind of size and arm he has.”

If the Patriots don’t draft a quarterback in the first round, Kiper believes they’ll likely add a linebacker or safety. He mentioned Alabama safety Xavier McKinney and LSU safety Grant Delpit, both projected first-round selections, as possibilities.