1.) Harry Kane – FWD, Tottenham
Kane went into last season with his share of skeptics, and many of them felt validated when he didn’t score until late September. Then he went on to score 24 more goals in the Prem, leading the league while Spurs chased the title.
Pay no mind to his lifeless performance at the Euro – surrounded by a young, talented corps of attackers, it should be more of the same this year for Big Daddy Kane. He’s a one-trick pony –he won’t contribute much of anything to the stat sheet except goals – and he gets booked more than you’d like to see in a forward, but he’s nearly a lock to score 20+ goals.
2.) Mezut Özil – MID, Arsenal
Ozil’s first half of last season was certifiably nutso, on pace to shatter the single season assists record (20, held by former Gunner Thierry Henry). Ol’ Frog Eyes had 16 dimes by the end of December, though he cooled off considerably, finishing the year with 19.
Despite the dip in assists during the second half, he’s still the #2 player on the board, thanks to his ability to contribute to every category. He passed the ball at 86% accuracy, is rarely booked, and chipped in a half-dozen goals. As a midfielder on a good defense, he won’t concede many goals either.
Özil’s eye-popping 145 Key Pass points, almost 30 more than the next best, Christian Eriksen) suggests that with some better finishing up top, he’d have rewritten the record book on assists.
3.) Romelu Lukaku – FWD, Everton
The burly Belgian was signed by Chelsea to be the heir apparent to Didier Drogba. When he wasn’t, at the age of 20 years old, he was sold to Everton, where he’s starting to look like the heir apparent to Didier Drogba. (Albeit in a different shade of blue.)
Assuming he stays at Everton, Lukaku is the third player on the board; a move elsewhere, to a club where he’s not the unquestioned starter, and his value takes a slight hit. His new manager, Ronald Koeman, knows a thing or two about getting the best out of an imposing #9, and while you shouldn’t expect prime-Drogba numbers from Lukaku just yet, he certainly looks likely to be a 20+ goal scorer sooner than later.
With good passing numbers (six assists, 79% pass completion) and on an improved attack, we’re confident Captain Rom can kick the tires and light the fires.
4.) Riyad Mahrez – MID, Leicester
It’s not often that you get a guy who was undrafted in the previous year crack the top five the next. Mahrez, the little engine that could, has done just that, and managers taking a risk by drafting him this high will hope that he can follow up his incredible breakout season.
The good news is that Leicester looks set to keep their title-winning squad intact; the bad news, if you can call it that, is that they’re now in Champions League, and it seems inevitable that their first-teamers are going to run out of steam at some point. There’s more risk than usual in a player like the slinky Algerian, though it largely depends on the the team’s priorities and how much rest.
Mahrez won’t score as many goals as he did last year, after being yanked off PK duty, but he will still hit double digit goals and assists, while seldomly seeing his name in the ref’s book.
You can’t spell Riyad without R-A-D, amirite?
5.) Christian Eriksen – MID, Tottenham
Remember seeing Eric Dier’s free kick against Russia and going “Huh?!” Well, that’s because Christian Eriksen is a damn wizard when it comes to set pieces so someone who’s merely very, very good like Dier never even gets the chance.
Eriksen’s receding hair line, and the fact that he was rumored to be moving to the EPL for about a decade before Spurs finally bought him, would probably make you think he’s in his early 30’s. But he’s 24, and coming off his best season by far as a pro.
Spurs were the youngest team in the league last season and won’t likely slow down. They’re going to score a whole lot of goals this year and Eriksen should be right in the thick of it, setting up the likes of Harry Kane, whipping in balls for Toby Alderweireld, and getting more freedom and space courtesy of Dele Alli drawing defenders.
6.) Jamie Vardy – FWD, Leicester
Vardy faces the same questions Harry Kane faced last year – can he do it again as a known quantity across the league? Of course, Vardy is seven years older and has spent most of his career in the lower leagues, so his breakout season might seem more fluky than ‘Arry’s, but he is such a perfect fit for the Leicester attack that it seems likely he can replicate at least 90% of his stats from last year. That would certainly be worthy of a first-round pick.
The subject of a (reported) offer from Arsenal, Vardy decided to stay put – an admirable move to most neutral fans – and it will be fun to see if Vardy can answer the questions asked of him.
As with Mahrez, there’s the potential issue of burnout due to European fixtures, but there’s no questioning his hunger or work rate.
7.) Kun Agüero – FWD, Man City
Kun scored 24 goals last year, despite missing 8 games through injury. Of course, given that his hamstrings are more fragile than a Fabrege egg, he could miss more this year. And if you take out the five-goals-in-66-minutes performance against Newcastle, his total is a bit less impressive, but he’s got a track record, and that’s worth a first-round pick.
We’re not taking him where he’s likely to be selected, but you totally should!
8.) Dmitri Payet – MID, West Ham
A French international, born on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, with a Russian name, and playing for a team from East London, Payet is one cosmopolitan dude. And his free kicks aren’t bad either.
He’s likely to be the subject of many a transfer rumor, so watch this space, but with the ability to score and create goals from anywhere on the field, we love him late in the first round. If he hadn’t missed significant time through a hamstring issue last year, he’d probably be in the top five.
9.) Hector Bellerin – DEF, Arsenal
This is probably higher than Bellerin will get selected in most leagues, and you could be forgiven for passing on a defender in the first round, especially since Bellerin will probably be available in the mid-second or later. But he’s the #1 defender on the board, and for good reason. He led the league with 18 clean sheets while contributing five assists.
Arsenal fans will tell you he’s the fastest player in the league, and it’s dumb to argue with anyone who wants to make a claim like that, so just nod your head and reach for him before he gets snatched off the board. Unless he gets sold to Barcelona, of course.
10.) Alexis Sanchez – FWD, Arsenal
You almost have to feel bad for Alexis – has he ever had a summer off? Last year, Arsene Wenger claimed he’d get a breather for the month of August, only to play in Arsenal’s very first game, when they as they trailed 2-0 to West Ham.
A player who can create and score double digit goals would normally be ranked higher than #10, but you have a right to be skeptical about fatigue with Alexis. Chile has played lots and lots and lots of games the past two summers, winning the Copa twice, and a brutal World Cup Qualification schedule looms.