The 2022 NFL Draft is here, with the annual extravaganza sending the very best gridiron talents around the 32 franchises, over the course of three days and seven rounds.
The system of teams taking turns to select college students, prevalent across US sports, is of course completely foreign to European football fans, who are accustomed to young players being snapped up by the biggest clubs around for enormous transfer fees.
At The Sporting News, we’ve decided to delve into the world of fantasy to dream up an NFL-style Premier League draft for the 2021/22 campaign.
In the interest of keeping a competitive balance, as the drafts in the US are designed to do, the picks go in reverse order based on last season’s finishing position.
That means Brentford go first, as the 2020/21 Championship playoff winners, then Watford and Norwich City. Positions 17th-1st from last term’s top-flight follow.
There is a cut-off of 21 years old for our draft prospects, while the Premier League’s “homegrown” rule is also in effect – that is to say, they need to have been in England for three years prior to their 21st birthday. As such, the likes of Gabriel Martinelli just miss out at present.
Brentford, you are on the clock…
No.1: Phil Foden (Brentford)
“With the first pick of the 2022 Premier League Draft, Brentford select… Phil Foden,” says Richard Masters, as he takes to the stage to fulfil the Roger Goodell role. Foden is one of the very best in the world in his age group, and his selection is a no-brainer for Brentford and their free selection of the pool.
Foden marked his 100th career start with his 75th goal involvement when he headed home in Manchester City’s 4-3 Champions League win over Real Madrid. His versatility and relentless work-rate makes him feel like a good fit for boss Thomas Frank, too.
No.2: Bukayo Saka (Watford)
Our Premier League Draft would cause ructions in reality, but at least Saka gets a minimal change in his commute to work. Watford’s training ground backs on to Arsenal’s London Colney base, meaning a short nip over the hedge for the England winger.
Saka’s exceptional skills would be the main appeal, but his adaptability and evidently-cheery outlook would be well-suited to having a new manager every five minutes. One consideration in a first-rounder is selecting a “face of the franchise” – and Saka definitely fits that role.
No.3: Marc Guehi (Norwich City)
The most porous defence in the Premier League, meet the most impressive young defender in the Premier League. There are plenty of creative, attacking players on this list, but it takes a special talent to establish themselves as a composed, reliable centre-back at 21. Guehi is now part of the England setup having impressed at Crystal Palace and would instantly lift standards at Carrow Road.
No.4: Emile Smith Rowe (Burnley)
Burnley’s long-term future is unknown in the post-Sean Dyche era, but let us paint you a picture: a team not exactly noted for their creative prowess with the effervescent Smith Rowe playing off No.9 Wout Weghorst, with Maxwell Cornet and Dwight McNeil manning the flanks. The neutrals would be flocking to Turf Moor to witness the new great entertainers in no time.
No.5: Michael Olise (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Brighton play exquisitely-crafted football under Graham Potter, although the masterplan is frequently undermined by a lack of composure and cutting edge in the final third. Olise would remedy this with a heavy dose of flair. Additionally, imagine the nuisance value of taking a Crystal Palace academy product to the Amex Stadium.
No.6: Jacob Ramsey (Southampton)
Ramsey is a technically-sound, dynamic midfielder with a high workrate and an eye for goal. That sees him tick a lot of boxes for Ralph Hasenhuttl, who could slot the 20-year-old into the attacking midfield line of his 4-2-2-2 setup. He’s the sort of player who could be so good for Southampton that Liverpool would pay huge money for him in a couple of years.
No.7: Tariq Lamptey (Crystal Palace)
We’re giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Making the opposite journey to Olise and subjecting himself to similar vitriol is Lamptey. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s struggles at Manchester United and the implausible £50m that Palace trousered make that deal feel like a win-win, but if there is a weakness to be addressed in Patrick’s Vieira’s bright developing side it’s at right-back. Lamptey would be ideal.
No.8: Armando Broja (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Raul Jimenez returning from a fractured skull to resume life as a Premier League regular at Wolves has been a true feel-good story. But there is a need for some succession planning up-front at Molineux. Chelsea youth-team graduate Broja has impressed on loan at Southampton and his combination of strength, dynamism and solid technique would appeal to Bruno Lage.
No.9: Cole Palmer (Newcastle United)
Newcastle are now in the business of statement signings and drafting the jewel of Manchester City’s latest highly-touted crop of youth talent would certainly fit the bill. At home as an attacking central midfielder or a right-winger cutting in onto his jackhammer left foot, Palmer has already amassed a hefty showreel of wonder goals for City’s age-group sides. His first-team and England U21 breakthroughs would have been more pronounced this season without injury problems.
No.10: Curtis Jones (Aston Villa)
Joining up with Steven Gerrard to develop your career under his watchful eye? This would be every young Liverpool fan’s dream, not least an actual Liverpool midfielder like Jones. This is the pick where the coverage cuts to an emotional family via video call.
The 21-year-old has perhaps not kicked on as he might have liked at Anfield this term but has already racked up over 70 first-team games, and would be a stellar addition at Villa Park, potentially learning alongside another man with strong Liverpool links in Philippe Coutinho.
No.11: Valentino Livramento (Everton)
Where to start with Everton’s needs for reinforcements. These are tough times at Goodison Park, none more so than for proud and long-serving club captain Seamus Coleman. As the Irishman selflessly goes back to the well time and again, he needs a long-term heir at right-back and Livramento is another gem from the Chelsea academy who has excelled at Southampton.
No.12: Anthony Elanga (Leeds United)
One of the very few outright success stories of Ralf Rangnick’s temporary stint in charge of Manchester United, Elanga would surely thrive under Jesse Marsch – a graduate of Rangnick’s Red Bull school. He has the cachet that being with the Red Devils since the age of 12 brings, with real superstar potential. Plus, Dan James has already shown that transfers across the Pennines need not always happen in one direction.
No.13: Callum Hudson-Odoi (Arsenal)
Hudson-Odoi is the potential steal of the draft, with Arsenal making the most of their unusually-high placement. Departures at the top end of this draft mean there will be a need to placate Gunners fans with a big-name pick. Hudson-Odoi is almost four years out from his Chelsea debut and Mikel Arteta has shown a keen aptitude for developing standout young talents. The England international has stagnated a touch through form and fitness struggles but he would be a potentially dazzling addition at Emirates Stadium.
No.14: Harvey Elliott (Tottenham Hotspur)
Elliott was on the up and up at Liverpool before a dreadful leg break earlier this season checked his progress. Completion for places in Jurgen Klopp’s midfield and forward line is fierce. Antonio Conte likes plug-in-and-play transfer options – in NFL Draft terms, he is very much in “win-now mode” rather than building for the future. It is easy to envisage Elliott thriving alongside Son Heung-min and Harry Kane in the Spurs attack if Dejan Kulasevski can’t be secured on a permanent basis.
No.15: Liam Delap (West Ham United)
Out-and-out centre-forwards are a dying breed at all levels of football and Delap is a particular outlier in the youth game. He was Manchester City’s top scorer when they won Premier League 2 last season, although a persistent ankle injury has prevented what might have been a breakthrough campaign at first-team level.
Erling Haaland’s rumoured arrival doesn’t seem like fantastic career news for Delap and he could become a leading light for a West Ham team playing to his strengths and going places. The Irons are in desperate need of a striker, too, if only to give poor Michail Antonio a rest.
No.16: Joe Gelhardt (Leicester City)
Jamie Vardy’s advancing years and injury struggles this season have put into sharp focus the fact that Leicester will soon have to operate without one of their greatest ever players. The former England striker’s impact will be impossible to emulate but high-energy Leeds forward Gelhardt – a sleeper pick in this draft – could fill that spot in the squad and blossom into a crowd favourite in his own right.
No.17: Luke Thomas (Chelsea)
Thomas has amassed over 50 senior appearances for Leicester and is a Premier League regular for Leicester. A tidy and composed defender, he is at home at both left-back and on the left of a back-three. Given Antonio Rudiger’s impending departure and Ben Chilwell’s fitness struggles this season, he would be a useful man for Chelsea to have around.
No.18: James McAtee (Liverpool)
Before penning a long-term contract extension at Manchester City this season, McAtee was linked with both Liverpool and Manchester United. A nimble, skilful player at home in attacking midfield or across the front three, McAtee has inspired City to back-to-back Premier League 2 titles and has a keen eye for goal. His 22 goals in 25 second-string appearances this season show a player who has outgrown youth level and is ready for the big time.
No.19: Charlie Patino (Manchester United)
Patino might well be the most gifted player to have come through Arsenal’s Hale End Academy and that is saying a lot. His solo goal in a reserve game against Manchester United this season, concluding with a nonchalant chip, showcased a lavish skill-set. The goal went viral and potential superstar quality has long appealed to United who, in Erik ten Hag, might finally have a coach to develop a player of Patino’s boundless potential.
No.20: Oliver Skipp (Manchester City)
Fernandinho is ready to call time on a decorated Manchester City career, meaning Pep Guardiola needs cover and competition in the holding midfield position he redefined as a player and a coach. Rodri would remain first-choice but the elegant, composed Skipp could take a leap forward under Guardiola – to the benefit of both City and England.
For all the latest news and reaction from Las Vegas – including mock drafts and details of every pick – head over to The Sporting News’ 2022 NFL Draft HQ.