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On Tuesday, the first WWE draft in five years will take place, with presumably all talent being up for grabs. The draft will surely redefine the current WWE structure, as talents will now be restricted to feuding only with those that are on their brand. In preparation of the draft, I present to you my 2016 WWE Draft Big Board; essentially a power ranking of the best prospects in the draft.
Two important notes about the big board; the first is that this is a power ranking only—this is not a fantasy draft where I am concerned about setting up certain feuds or influencing one brand with a particular style. The second is that for the sake of making this easier, I am ranking tag teams in their entire incarnation as opposed to one person at a time. While I'm sure some teams will be split up in the draft, I'm assuming that teams like The New Day, The Wyatt Family, Enzo and Cass, etc. are going to be together following the draft. Also, I'm not factoring in individual championships that are being held right now by talent, essentially assuming that all titles are vacated heading into the draft. I do this because championships, especially the mid-card titles, are very fluid and can change at any time, so it is hard to rate someone higher for a championship they may lose in a week or two.
1.John Cena- I find it hard to believe that Cena is not the number one pick, even if he isn't going to be around all of the time. Hardcore fans can dispute this, but Cena is still the ace of WWE. He moves the most merchandise by far out of anyone in the company and still gest the biggest reactions from the audience. Cena's best asset is that his feuds always matter because of who he is. Even if fans don't like Cena, the fact is that feuding with him comes across as a bigger deal than pretty much anything else, including the world title. A clean victory over John Cena on a PPV is pretty much rarer than a world title victory, so it immediately makes whoever is feuding with him much more important than they would be working with anybody else. Right now, AJ Styles seems more important feuding with Cena than when he was feuding over the WWE World Heavyweight Championship just one month ago.
2.Dean Ambrose- Ambrose rates higher than his Shield brethren for the simple reason that his ceiling as a performer is higher. Rollins is a better overall talent than Ambrose and is more versatile, but Ambrose's unique charisma allows him to reach a higher level than Rollins. Rollins is really, really good and can do a lot of things in the ring better than Ambrose, but with Ambrose's ability to connect with the audience in a way that only he can, his ceiling is higher. I was really impressed with his promo on Monday, and I think he has the best chance of being the babyface that replaces Cena, the role they desperately want Reigns to be.
3.Seth Rollins- Pretty much anything you ask of Rollins to do he can do it better than anybody else on the roster. He has proven himself to be the best big-match performer in the company over the last year, he is the top heel in the company (at least of the active wrestlers), he can cut good promos, and I don't have any doubt he could be a very good babyface if given the opportunity.
4.AJ Styles- Styles is very similar to Rollins in the ring, and he has had some super-human performances at his last few PPV matches. While he is never thought of as a great talker, he has been pretty solid on the mic during his latest heel run. Rollins has the edge on him simply because Rollins is younger and has already won the world title on two occasions while it is unclear if WWE will ever have the confidence to put the world title on a former TNA guy. I'm not condoning this line of thinking, but it is a real possibility when it comes to pushing him as the top guy for a brand.
5.Roman Reigns- At this point in his babyface run it's pretty clear that Reigns is not at the level of the men who are ranked above him. Sure Reigns gets the title and main events, but the fans are not behind him, either as a babyface, heel or a tweener, the way they support the top four. With that being said, Reigns has been the top guy in the company throughout 2016 and even if that has not been as successful as WWE had hoped, he is still a major player in WWE and a divisive character to the audience.
6.Kevin Owens- Owens came right into NXT and won the NXT Championship. Then he moved up to the main roster and defeated Cena cleanly in the middle of the ring. Since then he hasn't necessarily become a full-time main event star, but there is a little doubt he has the potential to be that. In the ring and on the microphone, an argument can be made that he is the most well-rounded superstar in WWE's locker room. What ultimately separates him from his rival Sami Zayn is that while I'm confident Owens could become a big babyface star, I'm hesitant to make that same claim about Zayn becoming a big heel.
7.Brock Lesnar- As a draw for a major show nobody is close to Brock, which is why he ranks this high on the list. Lesnar, The Undertaker and Triple H are the wild cards in this draft because it is obvious that they are big stars that can boost a big event, but it is just as obvious they won't be around for most of the year. With Brock's recent victory at UFC 200 and being a major factor on mainstream news shows, he is an incredible asset to WWE, and it wouldn't really surprise me if he was picked number one overall.
8.The New Day- Surprised to see them this high no? The New Day rank at eight because of how much of a factor they have been in WWE over the last year. Every week they are asked to come up with something funny and creative to fill 10 minutes on RAW and more often than not they deliver. When you factor in injuries and suspensions, who in WWE has been relied upon more frequently than the New Day? Not Cena, not Rollins, not Reigns, not Styles, not Randy Orton. Really only Ambrose has been as consistent in their roles as major players in WWE in 2016. A solid New Day segment and match can easily fill a half-hour of TV time, a crucial factor when you are looking to build a brand.
9.Sami Zayn- Zayn possesses a lot of the affability that made Daniel Bryan such a big star, and given the right push he could reach those same heights. Like Ambrose, Zayn has potential to be a game changer in WWE, the face of the company and someone that is beloved by all facets of the audience (women, children and hardcore fans) which is rare.
10.Randy Orton- Orton has the resume to be one of the top three picks in the draft and nobody would bat an eye. Out of the full-time wrestlers only Cena has a list of accomplishments that could even rival Orton's, and yet Orton has fallen a bit by the wayside in WWE. He has been out of action for nearly a year, yet only a handful of hardcore Orton fans have pined for his return or complained about his absence. He is going to wrestle Lesnar at SummerSlam and while that will probably be a very good match, the excitement level isn't there the same as it would be for other stars. Would you be more excited for Owens vs Lesnar? I certainly would be. I think Orton has just kind of run his course in WWE as a top name, there is not that much left for him to do that would be fresh except if he dramatically changes his character.
11.Finn Balor- Balor has become the most popular wrestler in NXT history thanks to his charisma and in-ring ability. The track record of guys coming up from NXT and having immediate success is pretty good; the only NXT champion to flop on the main roster is Bo Dallas, and Balor has been bigger than any of those previous wrestlers. I suppose just how much he will get over on the main roster is still somewhat of a mystery, but it is widely believed that Balor is going to be a major star once he comes up to either SmackDown or RAW.
12.Shinsuke Nakamura- Speaking of mysteries, what can we expect from Nakamura on the main roster? Unlike Balor, he hasn't been in NXT very long so it is harder to judge his ceiling. Despite the short duration of his time in NXT, he has gotten over very well with the NXT audience and there are a lot of people who think Nakamura could be the biggest star on the main roster this time next year. Like Ambrose, he has a unique amount of charisma that can differentiate himself from everyone else on the roster, which gives him a higher ceiling than pretty much everyone else.
13.Triple H- Triple H is an interesting candidate because while he is only going to wrestle under a dozen matches per year, unlike The Undertaker and Brock, he is still going to be on the shows (maybe on the show too much) so realistically you can build feuds with him throughout the calendar year. I think the big debate for Triple H is just how significant of an additional draw to major shows is he? I find it hard to believe that Triple H wrestling at SummerSlam means as much as Brock or The Undertaker wrestling at the same event. However, he is still a significant name and the infrequency of his matches still make him a prominent player in WWE.
14.Samoa Joe- Joe is one of the few guys on the WWE roster that they can book to be a monster and he can convincingly pull it off. A lot of the guys WWE has tried to promote as true beasts (Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, The Big Show) have had some flaw that has prevented them from reaching the goal. Joe has the physical talent and the mic skills to come across as a true badass, and that has proven to be a timeless quality in wrestling when it comes to making money. Ideally he would be the perfect person to feud with Lesnar down the road.
15.The Undertaker- The toughest character to rank on the list. With The Undertaker we truly do not know what we are going to get. One more match? Two more matches? The strength of The Undertaker is that he is a special attraction, and even in the twilight of his career he is still the most universally beloved performer in the company. At WrestleMania he can have the marquee match on the show and you can have two-three months' worth of storyline that can carry the show. That is a short window, but it is also more constructive than having a years' worth of storyline from a mid-carder.
16.Bayley- The argument between Bayley and Sasha Banks as the first women off the board mirrors the Ambrose vs Rollins argument. Banks is a better all-around performer than Bayley, but I think in the long run that Bayley has more potential. I like Banks and she has a lot of appeal, but Bayley has something special that nobody else really has. I think Bayley is closer to transcending women's wrestling in WWE because of her ability to connect with younger girls as well as the rest of the hardcore audience. She is more popular in NXT than Banks ever was and I think that success will translate to the main roster.
17.Sasha Banks- Banks has been kind of undermined for most of her time on the main roster after debuting last summer, but as she is now the number one contender for the Women's Championship, she has regained a lot of her mojo. Banks has the best character out of any of the females in WWE, with a combination of swagger and attitude that have endeared her to hardcore fans. She doesn't have quite the ceiling that Bayley has, but I also think she can be a really good heel, something that Bayley would likely struggle with.
18.Chris Jericho- He is a part-timer, but unlike the rest of the part-timers he works house shows and appears on almost every show during his runs. After kind of languishing in the mid-card as a tweener during his late couple runs, the full-on heel Jericho has become the most skilled heel in wrestling. Jericho continues to be one of the more creative talents and is still very good in the ring and can be used as a top-level contender or someone that can get a younger guy over.
19.Rusev- Rusev has had a roller-coaster of a career in WWE. When he first came up he was a heel, but I didn't think he was very good, just a big guy that could move well. He feuded with Cena and was buried pretty badly, eventually having to sort of reboot his character. Since then I think he has improved greatly, his feud with Dolph Ziggler was a turning point as he was allowed to cut actual promos and became more confident in the ring. WWE's back-and-forth opinions on Lana impact his development, but Rusev is a real asset to the company.
20.The Wyatt Family- The Wyatt Family's fall from grace can be traced back to one core issue: WWE never cared to develop Bray Wyatt's character any further. Wyatt is still just a creepy guy who says strange things, but because his motivations are never really clear, it is difficult to get that invested in his storylines. Without some sort of twist to his character I find it hard to believe the Wyatt Family is going to climb back up the card.
21.Enzo and Cass- An interesting team to debate about. WWE loves Cass and rumors are swirling that Vince thinks he can be a huge star for the company. Cass is good, but Enzo is the lynchpin to the team and his pre-match promos are similar to the New Day in that they are consistently creative. I guess their real future is based on whether WWE wants to keep them as a tag team, or move Cass into a solo role with Enzo as his manager. I would prefer the former but I imagine certain people in WWE are pushing towards the latter.
22.Charlotte- Charlotte has had a nice long run as Women's champion and while Bayley and Banks are ranked higher on the big board, Charlotte has been the queen of the division for the last year or so. I'm unsure about Charlotte's future; she has been good in the bully champion role, but I'm not sure how much further they can take her character. Bayley and Banks rate higher because I think they can take their character much further, while Charlotte has likely already hit her peak.
23.Cesaro- Pushing Cesaro is catering toward real, hardcore fans. He doesn't get much mic time and while I do believe he has some charisma, it hasn't been exploited very well. All Cesaro does is wrestle really, really good matches and get over with the audience by doing impressive stuff in the ring. Maybe he won't ever be a top contender but pretty much everyone has their best match with Cesaro, a key role when you are looking to fill out your roster.
24.The Miz- In an era where being a good heel is more likely to get you cheered than booed, The Miz is a throwback. The Miz is a heel and does all the classic heel moves in and out of the ring, and NOBODY likes him. He's a natural irritant that seems to rub everyone the wrong way, and that is a useful skill. He is one of the better guys on the microphone and with the right opponent he can have some pretty good matches.
25.Anderson and Gallows- With AJ Styles they have a great role in the company and do what they do best, supply the physical muscle to protect their leader. Without Styles, they are still a capable team, albeit their chances of running in the main event picture are greatly reduced. They are still new and fresh in the company, so there is a lot more they can do in WWE before becoming afterthoughts.
The Next 10:
27.Alberto Del Rio
35.The Big Show