WWE Draft 2016: Rebuilding ‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown’ With These Picks
What a difference a year makes.
When Kenny Herzog and I did our 2015 WWE Draft, we complained that the lack of roster depth made picking 20 wrestlers each a challenge. Now, WWE’s ranks are so replete with talent that we could’ve gone into a second round. Thanks to a string of successful NXT callups and high-profile indie signings, it’s not a stretch to call WWE’s current lineup the most loaded in recent wrestling history. And you get the feeling they’re not done stocking up just yet.
What’s more, unlike last year, the reason for even doing a draft – rebuilding the rosters on Raw and SmackDown – doesn’t seem like a stretch. After all, with Shane and Stephanie McMahon jousting for TV time, a WWE brand split could be happening any day now. Quite possibly Monday. What a time to be alive.
So with the NFL draft set to kick off tomorrow in Chicago, we’re back to take another stab at shaking up the WWE ranks. The rules remained the same – we each serve as GM for one brand, everyone on the WWE roster is available, a tag team only counts as one pick and NXT is fair game, too – but everything else has changed. For the better.
Raw: #1, Kevin Owens
Montgomery: There are probably other guys I should take with the first overall pick, though most of them are either A) hurt, or B) Roman Reigns. So instead, I’m building my brand around the wrestler I’ve enjoyed watching the most, KO, who hasn’t even been on the main roster for a year but has already established himself as the best heel in the company, a durable worker, a dependable champ, a scintillating promo and a social media assassin. Also, anyone who hates Michael Cole this much is always welcome on my roster.
SmackDown: #1, Seth Rollins
Herzog: He’s the only guy guaranteed to shake up the main-event scene when he returns, and I have a feeling his initial entrance – and the pop he gets – will help dictate whether he returns as hero or villain. Either way, Rollins isn’t even 30 years old, yet he’s already established himself as one of the most valuable assets in WWE, as evidenced by how large his absence has felt. Does this recent injury worry me about his future health? Nah. That’s what CrossFit and Chipotle are for.
Raw: #2, A.J. Styles
Sure, his age (38) and injury history (whatever happened to his bad back?) scare me, but both are byproducts of an indie career that spans nearly two decades – and the cost of earning a reputation as one of the best wrestlers on the planet. No one ever doubted the Phenomenal One’s talents, but there were genuine concerns about how he’d be received by WWE fans unfamiliar with his work…to say nothing of Vince McMahon’s perceived bias against stars developed outside his singular system (how’d Sting’s WWE run turn out again?) But so far, so good – perplexing ‘Mania loss to Chris Jericho aside, Styles has a shot at Roman Reigns’ title this Sunday at Payback – and with his Bullet Club mates just making their presence felt, his future prospects appear bright.
SmackDown: #2, New Day
This is actually kind of risky, given that Enzo and Cass seem destined for a run with the Tag Team belts soon, but there’s still no more universally beloved, must-see troupe of shameless entertainers than New Day – even if they’ve put on roughly three memorable matches since their transformation into contemporary carnival barkers.
Raw: #3, Roman Reigns
I know I just badmouthed him, but Raw can’t just be Ring of Honor, so the Roman Empire shall be built on my brand. And even if I’m making this pick begrudgingly, I can’t deny that Reigns’ recent run as WWE World Heavyweight Champ has had glimmers of greatness – specifically, the gradual return to his unapologetic, asskicker roots. Couple that with his talents in the ring (he’s a much better worker than he’s given credit for), and there’s no denying Reigns may finally be putting all the pieces together. He’s not a bad guy, he’s not a good guy, he’s the guy, so hate him all you want…he’s not going anywhere.
SmackDown: #3, John Cena
He’s probably only got a couple full-time years left, but since these picks only need to justify themselves for the next 12 months, and Mr. Attitude Adjustment is on the mend and making his way back to the fray, I only have four words to say about my number-three selection: The Champ. Is. Here!
Raw: #4, Dean Ambrose
He’s spent the past year working very hard, but has very little to show for it – yet through it all, the Lunatic Fringe has given us glimpses of what could be. Whether it was winning the IC belt from Kevin Owns at TLC, or, most notably, in title losses to Seth Rollins at Money in the Bank and Triple H at Roadblock, Ambrose has taken fans on a wild ride – they want to believe in him, and on Raw, they’ll finally have a reason to.