It’s been four years since WWE held a draft to refresh its Raw and SmackDown rosters, and while we certainly haven’t missed having Theodore Long in our lives, perhaps it’s time to revive the idea – especially with the company moving SD to the USA Network in 2016.
In fact, with so much talent fighting for TV time (Push Cesaro!) bringing back the WWE Draft is probably a good thing. So using the NFL Draft as a model – the first round kicks off tonight in Chicago – we asked ourselves a question: If we were to reset the rosters on Raw and SmackDown and rebuild each brand from scratch, which WWE Superstars would we start with?
Thanks to the fine folks at Cageside Seats, we already know who each NFL team would take, but we wanted to ignore the pro game and just do an honest-to-goodness WWE Draft. Don’t worry, we conferred with Corporate Kane first, and even set up some ground rules: Everyone on the WWE roster was available (though in the case of the Rock, we made an exception), a tag team only counts as one pick and we were allowed to dip into the deep waters of NXT, too.
Aside from that, much like the build to Bray/Undertaker, we kind of made it up as we went along – this is a fictional draft based on professional wrestling, after all. With Rolling Stone‘s Kenny Herzog serving as GM of SmackDown, and sports editor James Montgomery taking over Raw – and after a coin flip to determine draft order – here’s who we’d take, and why.
SmackDown: #1, Seth Rollins
Herzog: I thought about being shocking with the first pick, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of hard not to take the current – and no doubt future – WWE champion. I don’t see this being a fleeting thing for him; he’s their guy and he’s healthy, super-talented and fun to watch, but more than that, it seems like Rollins is going to be a fixture in the title scene for the next few years.
Raw: #1, Brock Lesnar
Montgomery: I’m taking him despite his shortcomings and schedule, because he’s the most dominant and compelling guy when he’s in the ring. Even when he’s not on TV – essentially operating as a phantom champion – you can feel his presence. And if you’re going to start with a building block, you might as well get the biggest building block. Oh, and I guess I get Paul Heyman with him, too!
SmackDown: #2, Neville
It’s a bit of a swerve, but I’m high on him. I was high on his prospects coming out of NXT, too, and I don’t care about all the things you can polish over time – you don’t come across a talent like him very often. More than anything, he’s a reason to watch, and I want people to watch SmackDown. I think you saw Monday on Raw that he can win over any crowd with his matches.
Raw: #2, Roman Reigns
If this were a few months ago, I don’t know if I would have made this pick, but he’s decidedly over now, his momentum his only growing and his work in the ring is improving. I kind of feel like he’s undeniable at this point, and we’ve seen what he and Lesnar can do, so I’d like to see them do more of it.
SmackDown: #3, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon
Can I have both of them? I want them as the Authoritative presence on my roster, even if Triple H is a part-time guy now. It’s a strategic pick, I guess.
Raw: #3, Dean Ambrose
It was either him or the guy I bet you’re going to pick next, but when in doubt, I go with the younger guy. I feel like they’ve really screwed up Ambrose every step of the way since the Shield split, but despite all that, he’s still over, and I think his work in the ring is good. He’s believable as an IC champ, you could give him a run with the Heavyweight belt, too.
SmackDown: #4, Dolph Ziggler
He’s solid, if nothing else. I’m thinking that I have to be conscious of having faces and heels, but those things aren’t permanent. Ziggler can do ’em both, though it seems like he’s a fixture as a face now.
Raw: #4, Daniel Bryan
His injury history concerns me, but he’s over with the fans, and if he has to serve as the TV commissioner, just booking matches, he can do that, too. And obviously when he’s healthy, he’s fantastic. A risky pick with tremendous upside potential.
SmackDown: #5, Rusev and Lana
I may regret this, because I get the feeling they won’t be a package for much longer. Lana can be a Diva and be fine, but I don’t know what happens to Rusev without her; maybe they’re thinking of expanding his character?
Raw: #5, John Cena
Hate me if you want, but with the fifth pick, he’s a steal. You gotta move some merch, and if nothing else, he’s proven that he’s willing to work every week and he’s a fighting champion. As GM, I’d mandate fewer “springboard Stunners” though.
SmackDown: #6, The Lucha Dragons
I wanted to get in on the tag teams before the run begins. I loved them down at NXT and they’ve already gotten over on the main roster. I think they could do big things in WWE.
Raw: #6, The New Day
This may be too high for them, but you get three guys here, so I’m going with New Day. Kofi is great, and I think Big E is really underrated and they got over as heels basically of their own volition. Plus I really liked their match with Kidd and Cesaro at Extreme Rules.
SmackDown: #7, Bray Wyatt
I need a little heel here, and while I don’t necessarily see what other people do in this guy, he’s one of the big bads, so, whatever. He could benefit from some refocusing, and that’s what I’d do with him. This is not a very deep roster, by the way.
Raw: #7, Tyson Kidd and Cesaro
This firms up my tag-team division, and I get two really versatile guys with one pick. I would also probably put Cesaro in the Heavyweight title picture, just because he rules. And I get Natalya, too.
SmackDown: #8, The Usos
This is a bit risky, but I need more tag teams, and hopefully Jey gets healthy. They might not be active for, like, four months, but even if Jimmy’s back, and he and Naomi have some kind of angle where they get into a conflict, at least I have them.
Raw: #8, Kevin Owens
Man, I need some Divas here, but I love this dude and I would love to see him feud with Brock Lesnar. He’s the future, his work as a heel champ at NXT has been incredible, his storyline is totally believable and he just has that “It” factor. If I’m the GM, I’m calling him up on Monday.
SmackDown: #9, The Bella Twins
I don’t need them both, but I’ll take them both. I really want Nikki – her run as Divas champ has really been good. I’m sorry if you’re reading this, Brie.
Raw: #9, Finn Bálor
Bálor is probably a better all-around wrestler than Owens, but I’m a little worried about how aspects of his character – his entrance, the makeup – will translate to the average wrestling fan. I feel like Owens fits the mold of the blue-collar brawler that WWE’s always had success with. He fits the brand a bit better, but I’m happy I ended up with both of them. Next to Neville, Bálor may be the most talented worker in all of WWE.
SmackDown: #10, The Rock
There are a couple of big names still out there, but I feel like I’m pretty objective, and I don’t know if they’re really the reason people tune in for a show – this guy certainly is. He doesn’t appear often, but when he does, I want him to appear on my brand.
Raw: #10, Randy Orton
A classic example of the dreaded “character questions” lowering a guy’s draft stock. When he’s motivated, he’s great – though he’s not motivated all the time. Regardless, he’s always going to be in mix, he probably has another run at the Heavyweight championship in him and I can see him working with some of the young guys. Though if I’m the GM of Raw, I will mandate he must wear pants.
SmackDown: #11, Sheamus
His gimmick is going to get old, and I don’t see him having a lot of title runs in him, but for right now, I need that big, monster heel, so I need Sheamus. At 11, he’s a value pick!
Raw: #11, Sasha Banks
Talk about value! I need to start building the Divas division, so I’m taking the wrestler who I think is one of the future stars, not to mention the current NXT champ. She’s got great feuds in her future.
SmackDown: #12, Naomi
I’ll answer that with Naomi, who I think has been doing great work as a heel. Also, now I have the entire Uso stable on my brand.
Raw: #12, Paige
She’s off TV for the time being filming some dumb movie, but her and Banks together – that’s a pretty solid start to the Divas division. Also, as Raw GM, I’m no longer calling them Divas. These are wrestlers, and that’s how I’m doing this. You can have Eva Marie.
SmackDown: #13, Wade Barrett
In the old days, I’d probably take an enhancement guy like Heath Slater here; you need guys like him. But I’m afraid I’ve got some Bad News – I’m taking Barrett. He’s a great worker, a good heel and he’s over with fans, despite WWE not knowing how to make his gimmick work. The King of the Ring win is a step in the right direction, though.
Raw: #13, Charlotte
This cements Raw as the premier home of women’s wresting. Plug her in with Sasha Banks and Paige and let them work. All three are great. I’m going all-in on NXT, in case you couldn’t tell.
SmackDown: #14, Sting
You may be going for young talent, but when this guy reappears, I want him on my show. Even if he’s a part-timer, fans love him. It’ll be him and ‘Taker at WrestleMania 32 – just give them a few months to build up a match and watch the reaction from the fans.
Raw: #14, Luke Harper
I think Harper works his ass off. He’s underappreciated, and I think he can go pretty far. You need top hands, and you need big, imposing guys who can work – he’ll get another five years in WWE based on that alone. Maybe I can pick Rowan up off the waiver wire; I’m pretty sure he’ll go undrafted.
SmackDown: #15, The Miz
He’s a worker in-and-out of the ring, and he’s a guy who’s just so good at being bad. Even though he’s off filming some Hallmark movie three or four months out of the year, you need guys like him on your roster.
Raw: #15, Ryback
They never give this guy anything to do, but he’s terrifying, and I feel his work in the ring has improved. He gets a pop whenever he comes to the ring, so at this point, fuck, why not?
SmackDown: #16, Sami Zayn
I thought about taking a commentator here, or J&J Security, but instead I’m taking Sami Zayn. I’m not worried that he looks like the guy from those Scotts commercials – he’s the other guy outside of Owens and Bálor down in NXT, he can go and people like him even with his stupid music.
Raw: #16, The Prime Time Players
I need another tag team, and they’ve been doing good work recently. Also, I feel like there’s something there, and Titus O’Neil, if they ever gave him a legitimate shot, is the total package.
SmackDown: #17, Cody Rhodes
I’m not taking him as an alter ego; this is a great time for him and Damien Sandow to be a babyface team without any pretension or alter egos – just two guys coming off of deranged gimmicks who people appreciate. You could also throw him right in the IC picture.
Raw: #17, Vince McMahon
I don’t even know what his role is anymore, but it’s the 17th pick of the draft, so I’m going with the ultimate heel. You can have him go back-and-forth with Bryan if D.B. can’t wrestle, you establish cross-brand heat with his daughter and Triple H on SmackDown and you get to play this .GIF on the TitanTron every week.
SmackDown: #18, Hideo Itami
As a cynical fan, I don’t see how he’s going to get over on the main roster, but he’s a steal this late in the draft. Give him a bit of time to adjust to the WWE style, and he could really dominate. He’s already making progress in that regard.
Raw: #18, The Realest Guys in the Room
I was going to take Alex Riley, just so I could bury him every single week. Instead, I’m bringing the new New Age Outlaws to my tag-team division. They can work a bit, they’re super over with fans and I love their entire gimmick. Enzo Amore may be the best in the biz when it comes to talking trash. And you can’t teach that.
SmackDown: #19, Kane
I’m basically taking him to keep him away from Raw, because of his history with Daniel Bryan. He can still work, he’s better than Big Show in my opinion and I don’t want to see a Team Hell No reunion on your brand. Counter strategy!
Raw: #19, Damien Sandow
I feel like he was getting over with his pseudo-shoot, I’m-a-real-guy promo on Raw before they turned him into a fifth grader. So I’m taking him here, and I’m bringing him in as Damien Sandow, normal guy, solid wrestler. You can see it getting over.
SmackDown: #20, Bo Dallas
Bo-lieve! There’s a lot of upside and room to grow here. I love Bo, though it seems I’m in the minority. I could team him with his brother Bray, though I’d make him get rid of the Bo-tee and the wrestling attire first.
Raw: #20, Big Show
Fuck it, I’ll take Show. He’s still a sight to behold, his match with Reigns at Extreme Rules was better than I thought it could ever be and you need a presence like his on TV. He’s probably the greatest big man of all time, so why not?