Can you imagine if the Premier League teams held a draft, selecting from a huge pool of players consisting of anyone plying their trade outside of the division?
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and more, all free agents, all available to be selected. It'd be one of the biggest events in sporting history—if not the biggest.
Here, we've created a three-round mock draft as if that were the case. Starting with Fulham at the top of Round 1 (as they were promoted via the play-offs), we go all the way down to Manchester City in 20th and then back to Fulham for the start of Round 2—NFL style.
For the purpose of the exercise, we've mandated that any player a team signs has to be given a five-year contract. That might make you think twice about grabbing Giorgio Chiellini (already 33 years old) and indeed has prevented several of world football's top stars in their 30s from being drafted. Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos are among them!
In selecting players for each team, transfer needs were established and weighed up against a "best player available" style philosophy. At times the best player (within a certain age bracket) was chosen; at times need came to the forefront and a particular position was addressed.
Take a look through our 60 picks, remember the prerequisites, and tell us what you think. Better yet, construct your own and show us! There are no right or wrong answers.
1.1 Fulham: Lionel Messi (AM/Wing)
Fulham play some of the finest football in England, so Messi should slot alongside Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon without missing a beat.
1.2 Cardiff City: Gareth Bale (AM/Wing)
Cardiff's path to promotion was a little different to Fulham's—they favoured the...physical side of the game a little more, shall we say—so Bale fits right in. It's a homecoming, too; even with Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar on the board, they can't resist bringing him back.
1.3 Wolves: Neymar (Wing/AM)
Given Neymar is 26, Wolves may end up with the best value pick of the top three. He slots straight into Nuno Espirito Santo's 3-4-3 formation and would link up with, erm, Barry Douglas on the left flank.
1.4 Southampton: Cristiano Ronaldo (ST)
Southampton are crying out for difference-makers in midfield—it's an issue that nearly sent them down until Dusan Tadic perked up late in the season—but Ronaldo is on the board, so Ronaldo is the pick. He'll just make the difference from slightly further forward.
1.5 Huddersfield Town: Robert Lewandowski (ST)
Town's big issue last season was goalscoring, so handing them an elite striker is an easy choice. Lewandowski is so well rounded he pretty much suits any side, but he feels particularly at home here given David Wagner values strength and hold-up play as well as finishing.
1.6 Brighton & Hove Albion: Antoine Griezmann (AM/ST)
It's arguable Brighton's chief concerns are at full-back, but there'll be a top-tier defender waiting for them in Round 2, so here they take a versatile attacking piece in Griezmann.
1.7 Watford: Paulo Dybala (AM/Wing)
Sometimes players slide a little further than you'd initially imagine, and Watford are the big beneficiaries of Dybala dropping all the way to seventh. He's perfect for them too: They change style and manage so often they need players who can play different roles and take on different instruction.
1.8 West Ham: Isco (AM)
This pick fits on every level. West Ham are crying out for a creator to ease the load on Manuel Lanzini, and selecting Isco, who is in his prime, makes sense. It would also link him back up with Manuel Pellegrini, who coached him at Malaga from 2011-13.
1.9 Bournemouth: Joshua Kimmich (RB/CM)
It's a little high for full-backs to be coming off the board, but Kimmich-to-Bournemouth is a special case.
It's clear the club need a solution at right-back—they used different players and formations to address the problem in 2017-18—and while Kimmich fills that hole, he'd also be their best central midfielder should he relocate back to his old position.
1.10 Crystal Palace: Kylian Mbappe (ST)
Imagine a strike-force of Mbappe and Wilfried Zaha? Palace just became one of the speediest teams in the Premier League.
1.11 Newcastle United: Mauro Icardi (ST)
Rafa Benitez knows he needs a reliable striker and, after a year of recycling mediocre options, gets Icardi handed to him on a plate. Problem solved.
1.12 Leicester City: Samuel Umtiti (CB)
Leicester City are one of the few sides outside of the top six who aren't in desperate need of a striker, as they have Jamie Vardy, so this prompts the first centre-back off the board.
Umtiti is an easy pick: He's young (24), durable and already considered one of the best in his position.
1.13 Everton: Thiago Alcantara (CM)
Everton fans were displeased with their team's slow, stodgy performances last season, so introducing Thiago to the mix should liven things up a bit.
1.14 Burnley: Thomas Muller (AM/Wing)
Any pick Burnley make would always be with Sean Dyche's famed "framework" in mind; if you don't run the hard yards, your talent won't interest them.
Muller feels like a great fit because of his combination of work rate, tactical acumen, size and poaching ability.
1.15 Arsenal: Sergio Busquets (CM)
At long, long last, Arsenal have the holding midfielder the fans have been crying out for. Busquets is the best defensive midfielder in the game and brings balance to the Gunners.
1.16 Chelsea: Toni Kroos (CM)
With Cesc Fabregas seemingly on the decline and Tiemoue Bakayoko's performance levels fluctuating, central midfield looks a concern for Chelsea.
Drafting Kroos would make them so much stronger in that position; he and N'Golo Kante as a duo would rival any other in the world.
1.17 Liverpool: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK)
The first goalkeeper off the board is Ter Stegen. That doesn't mean to say he's the best available, but tactically he'd fit Jurgen Klopp better than Jan Oblak, and he's six years younger than Manuel Neuer and doesn't have the recurring injury concerns.
1.18 Tottenham Hotspur: Miralem Pjanic (CM)
Mauricio Pochettino has to do something to ease the strain and dependence on Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele when Tottenham build from deep.
Pjanic has developed into one of the finest central midfielders in the world—perhaps to the point where he's closing in on Modric levels—and gives Spurs a dynamic option in the centre.
1.19 Manchester United: David Alaba (LB/CM)
As admirable as the job Ashley Young did at left-back last season was, United need a long-term answer there. Like Kimmich to Bournemouth, Alaba to United gives them a top player in their mid-20s who boasts positional versatility too.
1.20 Manchester City: Marco Verratti (CM)
Oh, to see Marco Verratti coached by Pep Guardiola.
City are in the market for a "regista" as evidenced by their pursuit of Jorginho, per the Manchester Evening News, but if they had the whole of world football to pick from, the Italian might just be the one.
2.1 Fulham: Jerome Boateng (CB)
Fulham won't cope in the Premier League without finding a suitable partner for Tim Ream in central defence, so that need must be addressed here. Boateng is one of the best ball-players in the world and would fit Slavisa Jokanovic's system.
2.2 Cardiff City: Koke (CM)
Almost every team promoted to the top tier needs to redress the central midfield area, and Cardiff are no exception. Koke combines steel and work rate with technical and set-piece ability (crucial to the Bluebirds), and there's still plenty left in his legs.
2.3 Wolves: Raphael Varane (CB)
Nuno might be tempted to take a central midfielder here to partner Ruben Neves, but the need at centre-back can't be ignored. Varane is the perfect pick, as he's already in the elite class and is still five years off his 30th birthday.
2.4 Southampton: Mats Hummels (CB)
Finding the sort of top-level centre-back Southampton fans are used to watching should be a priority for Mark Hughes this summer, so Hummels fits the bill. He'd bring a stronger semblance of leadership to the back line as well as his obvious technical qualities.
2.5 Huddersfield Town: Philippe Coutinho (AM/Wing)
David Wagner needs to find someone to share the creative burden with Aaron Mooy—he's just depended on too much at times—and not only would Coutinho do that, but he'd also be able to subscribe to the pressing game the Terriers instruct.
2.6 Brighton & Hove Albion: Alex Sandro (LB)
Taking Griezmann in Round 1 gives Brighton's squad a slightly top-heavy look, so it's time to address the defence. Drafting Alex Sandro to play on the left and link with Jose Izquierdo makes Albion seem a fairly formidable force.
2.7 Watford: Marcelo (LB)
That Marcelo is the third left-back off the board is solely down to his age (30). Watford solve their need in this position with the best in the world, but how long do his buccaneering runs continue? Perhaps he migrates further upfield toward a wing role as the years go by.
2.8 West Ham: Dani Carvajal (RB)
Despite Pellegrini's positive history with Pablo Zabaleta, he can't be considered a long-term option at right-back. Dani Carvajal would make them both a lot better and seven years younger in this position.
2.9 Bournemouth: James Rodriguez (CM/AM)
Many have long wondered what Eddie Howe could do with elite players, and thanks to this draft he gets his chance. Add James to his midfield template and their fortunes transform.
2.10 Crystal Palace: Sergi Roberto (RB/CM)
Like Kimmich and Alaba, Roberto boasts positional versatility, which bumps his value up. He could provide a solution at right-back and then filter into midfield or onto the wing if required.
2.11 Newcastle United: Lorenzo Insigne (Wing)
With Newcastle on the clock for the second time, in need of a winger and Ousmane Dembele available, fans scream for Benitez to make the obvious call. But with concerns over Dembele's work rate bubbling to the surface, he goes rogue and picks Insigne.
2.12 Leicester City: Jordi Alba (LB)
Claude Puel has been watching the forwards and midfielders fly off the board with a smirk, and unlike Benitez before him, there's no hesitation in his pick. Alba completes a retooled defence and gives him a second dynamic full-back—a crucial part of the style he implements.
2.13 Everton: Milan Skriniar (CB)
There are so many question marks over Everton's central defensive corps, but however this summer shakes out, they need to add at least one player in that area. Skriniar, who is already excellent and might soon be world-class, is quite the prize in Round 2.
2.14 Burnley: Ivan Perisic (Wing)
Again, Burnley's framework is a crucial consideration when picking a player here. Perisic is a superb winger and a wide goalscorer, but he also breaks his neck to help his full-back. For Dyche, it's love at first sight.
2.15 Arsenal: Marquinhos (CB)
Arsenal needed a centre-back before Laurent Koscielny tore his Achilles. Now they need two. The impending transfer of Sokratis taken into account, Marquinhos is still a sensible choice here given he's young, quick and, most importantly, very good.
2.16 Chelsea: Kalidou Koulibaly (CB)
Koulibaly has been linked to Chelsea consistently for several years, and those rumours have started up again due to expected appointment of Maurizio Sarri. Well, we can finally stop talking about what might be. It's happened. Koulibaly is the choice.
2.17 Liverpool: Stefan de Vrij (CB)
Jurgen Klopp completes his defensive line (and back five) by picking De Vrij, who steps in to partner Virgil van Dijk in the centre and form a Dutch connection. That's now an uncompromising set of players.
2.18 Tottenham Hotspur: Nelson Semedo (RB)
Despite signing Serge Aurier last summer, Tottenham still feel in need of an upgrade at right-back. With Kimmich and Carvajal off the board, Mauricio Pochettino takes Nelson Semedo—a player they probably should have signed before Barcelona got their mits on him last summer.
2.19 Manchester United: Leonardo Bonucci (CB)
With left-back fixed, Jose Mourinho moves inward and bolsters central defence. Leonardo Bonucci is 31 already, but he's another you'd bank on continuing to hit high levels for some time to come—just as Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli have.
2.20 Manchester City: Marco Asensio (AM/Wing)
City are by far the most difficult team to draft for because they have such quality and depth. With that in mind, Guardiola is handed a player he doesn't particularly need but probably will become so good that he's considered for a Ballon d'Or in the future. You can't have enough of them.
3.1 Fulham: Diego Costa (ST)
As it stands, Fulham have no striker that can carry out what Jokanovic asks for (Aleksandar Mitrovic was only on loan). Picking up Costa, a burly striker who does well with his back to goal, solves that.
3.2 Cardiff City: Jan Oblak (GK)
Having an elite goalkeeper can change the fortunes of a team no matter how strong they are, but for a promoted one, it would be especially impactful. Neil Etheridge was fantastic in 2017-18, but if you're presented with the chance to take Oblak, you don't say no.
3.3 Wolves: Casemiro (CM)
Nuno feels gratified; he trusted his gut in Round 2 knowing there'd be a holding midfielder waiting for him later on, and here he is. A Casemiro-Neves midfield two would be superb.
3.4 Southampton: Manuel Neuer (GK)
As impressive as Alex McCarthy was this year for Southampton, he's not a patch on Neuer—few, if any, are. He only slipped below Ten Stegen and Oblak in the draft order because of injury and age.
3.5 Huddersfield Town: Alex Telles (LB)
David Wagner doesn't seem particularly convinced by Chris Lowe or Scott Malone at Premier League level—hence the loan signing of Terence Kongolo in January—so left-back is a need once again this summer. Telles is considerably better than all three and brings a wicked set-piece delivery with him.
3.6 Brighton & Hove Albion: Corentin Tolisso (CM)
Given most of the teams in Brighton's range have upgraded in central midfield via this draft, they're at risk of being left behind in that department if they don't pull a similar move. Tolisso's intensity and style would bump the Seagulls up a few notches.
3.7 Watford: Timo Werner (ST)
Javi Gracia is understandably tempted by a goalkeeper here, but given Dybala ideally needs a striker to play off, he picks Werner instead. Suddenly, Watford are one of the most threatening sides in the league.
3.8 West Ham: Medhi Benatia (CB)
West Ham's current crop of centre-backs aren't bad, but they are pretty injury-prone, so it's a position worth bolstering. Benatia is the kind of warrior Pellegrini loves.
3.9 Bournemouth: Ousmane Dembele (Wing)
Howe loves a talented young winger to work with and coach, and there might not be one with more potential than Dembele. He slipped further in this process than anticipated but has at least found the perfect home.
3.10 Crystal Palace: Nabil Fekir (AM)
Its time to add a bit of guile (and balance) to this new-look Palace attack, so Roy Hodgson takes Fekir over several other speedy options still on the board.
3.11 Newcastle United: Samir Handanovic (GK)
With Martin Dubravka not signed permanently and Newcastle dragging their feet on the matter as per usual, they need a goalkeeper. Handanovic is one of the finest in the world.
3.12 Leicester City: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (CM/AM)
Every season the Foxes try to ween themselves off the importance of Shinji Okazaki and fail, but in drafting Milinkovic for his position, it finally actually happens.
3.13 Everton: Goncalo Guedes (Wing/ST)
Accusations of Everton having a lack of speed won't stick for much longer once Guedes takes to the pitch. Imagine him latching onto Thiago's perfect passes.
3.14 Burnley: Saul Niguez (CM)
An upgrade at left-back via Faouzi Ghoulam is very tempting here, but instead, Jack Cork gets a new midfield partner by the name of Saul Niguez. He has the raw ingredients to play for Dyche and ups the quality levels in the middle by a distance.
3.15 Arsenal: Gianluigi Donnarumma (GK)
The fact that it's now a coin flip between Petr Cech and David Ospina as to who tends goal for Arsenal means a new face is badly needed. Donnarumma had an up-and-down season, but he's still bound for the top rung.
3.16 Chelsea: Hirving Lozano (Wing)
Chelsea seem due for a refresh in the wing corps, and there's no better way to do so than by drafting Hirving Lozano. He's lightning fast, scores goals and sends tremors through defensive lines.
3.17 Liverpool: Angel Correa (AM/Wing/ST)
Liverpool need a body to enter the rotation of forwards, ideally one who can play as a striker, a No. 10 and a wide man. Correa is that player, and he brings the sort of aggression Klopp loves too.
3.18 Tottenham Hotspur: Thomas Lemar (AM/Wing)
It's take your pick between Lemar, Christian Pulisic, Leon Bailey and any other young, gifted attacking midfield or wing types. The former gets the edge here, as he's a little more robust and can play in a wider variety of roles.
3.19 Manchester United: Leon Goretzka (CM/AM)
It seems Jose Mourinho wants a new central midfield option, so let's give him one. Goretzka is a rumbustious box-to-box presence who has a varied skill set and the sort of somatotype Mourinho loves.
3.20 Manchester City: Benjamin Pavard (CB)
Again, City are simply drafting for the future. Pavard is one of the most incredible central defensive passers in world football, so pairing him up with Guardiola could create something special.
All statistics via WhoScored.com