Last week, we kicked off our ranking of SmackDown's draft picks (#29-#16) and today we will focus on evaluating SmackDown's picks #15-#1. As a reminder, the criteria for this topic will be based on if the wrestler was able to improve their standing on the card or provide any quality stories/matches since the July 16th draft. I used our article on the WWE Draft as a source and will only include those who were drafted or picked up just afterwards.
So, in addition to the draft picks, I'll include Nikki Bella, Luke Harper, James Ellsworth, Heath Slater/Rhyno, and Curt Hawkins. Even though Swagger is now on SmackDown, he was already ranked on Raw, so he'll be left off. Also left off, Alberto Del Rio (suspended/released shortly after draft), Mickie James (too new) and Spirit Squad (played minor role in basically one story). Okay, let's get to the rankings!
#15) James Ellsworth – Even though there's always bias in rankings, I'm trying to keep subjectivity to a minimum, which is evident with Ellsworth somehow making it to #15. Yes, at this point, he's lost some steam with the WWE Universe, but it's tough to ignore how he literally came out of nowhere and managed to be included in the main event feud between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose along with getting a contract with the WWE. Not too shabby.
#14) Nikki Bella – Coming back from a neck injury that nearly put her out of wrestling, Nikki has been a solid presence on the SmackDown brand. WWE could have gone the easy route and giving her the title right off the bat, but instead put her in a lengthy feud to try and help build up Carmella. Some people loved that feud, some hated it, but Nikki did what she could to make it work. She's currently tangled up with Natalya and it seems like she'll face off against Alexa Bliss in the near future, maybe at WrestleMania?
#13) American Alpha – The talent is obviously there and they had a solid match against the Wyatt Family/Usos/Slater and Rhyno to win the tag titles, but overall their initial run on the main roster has been a bit lackluster. I wouldn't put that entirely on them as the tag division is quite weak, so any really interesting feuds are few and far between. If WWE decided to bring The Revival to SmackDown, that could benefit Jordan and Gable greatly.
#12) Luke Harper – It might be unfair to put Harper this high as he didn't show up until early October, but even in a supporting role, he's provided plenty of entertaining segments. After initially going after Randy Orton, he became the constant doubter once Orton decided to team up with the Family. Under the "Freebird Rule" Harper became a tag team champion when Bray and Orton won them at TLC in December. The group has broken down over the past few weeks with Harper playing the third-wheel to perfection. The way he sold Bray first smacking him in the face was absolutely brilliant, actually made me feel bad for the bearded psycho. Now he's apparently turned good, breaking off from Bray and Randy, should be interesting to see where WWE takes this story.
#11) Heath Slater and Rhyno – Probably could have separated these two, but they have been linked together for so long, figured we would keep them as a tag team. After a glorious story about being the only "undrafted" wrestler in WWE, Slater then teamed up with former foe, Rhyno, to enter the inaugural SmackDown Tag Team Championship tournament. Eventually winning the titles, Slater and Rhyno became a consistent highlight for the show, remember the Cheez Whiz smiley face on the crackers? While they are still together, there are clearly some issues between the two, will they last?
#10) Baron Corbin – If we did this ranking in another six months to a year, it's almost a guarantee he'll be ranked higher. WWE clearly loves him and over the past month have really pushed him towards the main event scene, wrestling in WWE Championship number one contender matches, wrestling (although, losing badly) to John Cena, and now in the Elimination Chamber. Earlier in 2016, he built a solid foundation on the souls of Apollo Crews and Kalisto, but now it seems like he's ready for bigger and better things.
#9) Dean Ambrose – In terms of his gimmick, this ranking is too high as Ambrose has really stalled out in his promos and just overall character. The laid back vibe sans the "crazy" has made his gimmick a whole lot less interesting these days, but in terms of achievements, he was WWE Champion for a bit before dropping the title to AJ Styles, and he's currently the Intercontinental champion, so this ranking actually could be a bit too low. Either way, Dean could use a shake-up, either bring that natural crazy vibe (not the corny kind WWE loves to overdo) or turn heel.
#8) Bray Wyatt – He's been pretty much linked to Orton since the draft, has consistently put on quality segments, and even won his first title in the process. He's going to be in the Elimination Chamber next Sunday, and if he does win, I would bump him up a spot, maybe two.
#7) Becky Lynch – With Charlotte and Sasha on Raw, it was clear Becky was brought to SmackDown to be the foundation of the Women's Division. Even though early indications were Nikki would be champion, Becky took that honor and did a fine job until Alexa Bliss snatched the title away from her. A steady worker in the ring, Becky always gets good reactions from the crowd thanks to her hype babyface promos.
#6) Randy Orton – "If you can't beat them, join them." In surprising fashion, that's exactly what Orton did with the Wyatt Family, giving his character just something new and different to work with. Even Orton himself has said how much he's enjoyed working through this story. Most recently, Orton won the Royal Rumble, which was not only a surprise considering how stacked the match was, but it gives him a massive title opportunity at WrestleMania. Initially, I had Orton down a couple spots, but winning the rumble was a big deal, so up the rankings he went.
#5) John Cena – His feud against AJ Styles has been nothing short of incredible with not one, but two classic matches at SummerSlam and the Royal Rumble. Even though Styles could pull a good match out of Mark Henry, at 39, Cena had no issues keeping up with the former champion, both in the ring and on the mic. The only reason he's coming in at number five is because of his outside commitments, have to dock some points for just being away. Some might call foul on that, but I've used that as a negative throughout the rankings, have to keep it consistent.
#4) Dolph Ziggler – If we just looked at consistency from start (July) to finish (now), aside from AJ Styles and Miz, I don't think anyone has done a better job than Ziggler. Early on, he surprisingly won a six-pack challenge to face Dean for the WWE Championship, then moved to The Miz and engaged in one of the top feuds in all of wrestling in 2016. Never winning the big match, he actually put his career on the line, and was able to finally win the Intercontinental title away from Miz. Ziggler then had more opportunities at the WWE Championship, but just couldn't ever win, so out of frustration he turned heel, attacking Kalisto, Apollo Crews, and even superkicking Jerry Lawler over the next few weeks. For a veteran that most fans had cooled on, the brand split has been an amazing revitalization for Ziggler.
#3) The Miz (w/ Maryse) – Dressing down Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack and then using his moves in maches. The entire feud against Dolph, with Maryse (and Miz) spraying "unknown substances" in Dolph's face to get cheap wins. Bringing back (some) of The Spirit Squad, which could be good or bad. "Another day, another notch." Getting slapped in the face by Rene Young for calling out her relationship with Dean Ambrose, I mean what hasn't Miz done? He's got all the tools and yet WWE hasn't brought him to the main event, where he shouldn't get lost in the shuffle, in fact, he should win the WWE Championship at some point this year.
#2) Alexa Bliss – Talk about getting value out of your draft pick! Out of SmackDown's 26 picks, Bliss was taken 20th and has made a massive impact on the brand after coming up from NXT. I could see swapping her with Miz, but she gets some love for doing so well basically as a rookie. She was eliminated first from the six-pack elimination match to determine the first SmackDown Women's Champion, two days later became the number one contender, and less than two months after that, Alexa won the title away from Becky Lynch. Ms. "Five feet of fury" has not only the talent in the ring, but is easily one of the best talkers on the microphone in either brand. The only reason the number one spot was out of the question is...
#1) AJ Styles – I mean, there's really no debate here. I can see #2-#5 spots being completely switched up depending on your preference, but Styles has made it very clear that he is the only one on the summit. The guy has been money basically every single time he's on TV and has become so popular, WWE might just have to turn him good again, because fans can't help but cheer the guy. Styles' 2016 was something special, landing him all kinds "End-of-the-Year" awards, making him an easy choice for number one.