Welcome, cats and kittens, to a brand new article that is neither a review, nor an attempt to stave off your thirst for a review with a Buzzfeed style list! It’s the rarest of delights! On Monday night, Vince McMahon came out on Raw and declared that it was time to shake things up again in WWE, which most have interpreted as a new brand lottery draft, (even though it is rather suspicious that they didn’t call it that.) So with a new draft potentially on the horizon, what better time to take a look back at last year’s draft and give out some grades.
The grades are based primarily on how much value they returned for when they were taken in the draft during the past year, and what they meant to the Raw and Smackdown brands throughout the course of the year. We’re assuming that anyone could be moved on Monday, so you get no credit for potential future success. Make sense? Alright then, let’s shake things up one more time!
Monday Night Raw: Seth Rollins
Rollins has unquestionably been a top tier player on Raw all year long, engaging in what seemed like a 6 month title feud with Kevin Owens and finishing out the year in a super high profile feud against Triple H. It was clearly a sensible pick to take him first, though it has to be said that up until the Triple H feud, Rollins’ year was mostly forgettable and he really didn’t do much for Raw as a brand on a week to week basis. He continues to have all the potential in the world, and he also continues to have no defining match to show for it.
Smackdown Live: Dean Ambrose
This looked like an amazing pick for the first few months of the new Smackdown. Ambrose was everywhere on the show, getting great reactions, having interesting matches, and securing himself as the face of the brand. Unfortunately for Ambrose, someone would come along and usurp him for that spot, and by Wrestlemania, Ambrose was wrestling for the IC title on the pre-show. It’s a long way to fall, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, deep down, Ambrose wishes he could slap James Ellsworth right in his biscuit head.
Monday Night Raw: Charlotte Flair
She was as advertised for Raw, as the centerpiece of what has become the most prestigious division in WWE, Charlotte held it down and made WWE look very smart for their faith in her. Her feud with Sasha Banks was my runner up for feud of the year, and while there have certainly been diminishing returns in the Women’s division in the past few months, Charlotte is still going strong.
Smackdown Live: AJ Styles
This was, quite simply, the best pick in the draft. It seemed smart at the time, but none of us could have expected the renaissance that AJ Styles would bring to the Smackdown brand. Through his feuds with Dean Ambrose and John Cena, he not only wrenched the top spot away from anyone who thought that it belonged to them, he made the show completely his own. He’s the only person who i’m certain will not be getting moved on Monday.
Monday Night Raw: Finn Balor
This sucks, because it isn’t anyone’s fault. Finn made an enormous splash right after the draft, becoming the first Universal Champion, with a tidal wave of momentum, only to get hurt and see it all wash away. He literally only wrestled for one month during this period, so even though it was a really great month, a D+ is the best he can get.
Monday Night Raw: Roman Reigns
I mean, he’s been there every week, selling merchandise and getting booed. He’s held down big time feuds, and has established a genuine reputation for putting on some very entertaining brawls. That steroids things hurt though, it really did, and it wasn’t until the end of the year where he beat Braun Strowman and the Undertaker, that he finally got his momentum back on track.
Smackdown Live: John Cena
There will be two reactions to this grade. Either you’ll think, “How the shit can John Cena only get a B?” or “Cena wasn’t even around, why does he deserve a B?” Both very reasonable. Truth be told, Cena didn’t do near as much for Smackdown as you might have thought he would. He was gone for a large swath of the year doing other projects and came back towards the end of the year and really only had two feuds. Luckily, they were the AJ Styles and Miz feuds which were AMAAAAAAAAAZING. That’s just kind of what John Cena does.
Monday Night Raw: Brock Lesnar
I grudgingly award Lesnar a B- because WWE, and the Raw brand in particular, were able to use Lesnar’s name and the Goldberg feud as a marketing tool for about 9 months straight. But make no mistake, Lesnar offers extremely diminishing returns at this point, and he’s their champion for some reason. If they redrafted tomorrow, I wouldn’t want him on my brand.
Smackdown Live: Randy Orton
What a bizarre year it was for Orton. He redebuted before SUmmerslam in a really odd feud with Brock Lesnar that saw him get his head caved in, and then moved right into a sprawling team up/feud with the Wyatt family which still hasn’t concluded. While some have enjoyed parts of the Wyatt storyline, i’m not sure that anyone could call what they’ve accomplished a success, and it’s been a long time since Orton turned in a memorable performance.
Monday Night Raw: The New Day
Yes, they definitely got stale and lame towards the end of the year, we all know it. But these guys are such promotional machines, and are so easy to give 10 minutes on any given show to fill, that they’re about as valuable a commodity as you can get in the wrestling world. They’d have a higher grade if Booty-Os actually tasted good.
Monday Night Raw: Sami Zayn
He’s been there, all year long having good matches and being well liked and just kind of…being there.They haven’t really capitalized at all on the lear potential that made them draft him in this spot in the first place. Better luck next year.
Smackdown Live: Bray Wyatt
This one is sort of a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” thing. If you’re inclined to think that the Wyatt/Orton feud is good and entertaining, than you absolutely got your money’s worth out of Bray Wyatt this year. If not…well. At least the moment of him winning the title at Elimination Chamber was something that truly felt special.
Monday Night Raw: Sasha Banks
Injury proneness aside, this woman is an absolute star. She threatened to rip the spotlight away from Charlotte for huge stretches of their feud together, and even now she seems a cut above every other woman on the roster from a marketability standpoint. She seems to be on the cusp of turning heel, and is one of the few people on the roster, and possibly the only woman, who can easily transition between face and heel. She’s straight money.
Smackdown Live: Becky Lynch
It started off so well! Smackdown made a huge push to show that Becky was the top female star when the draft first took place and she looked excellent doing it. The fans loved her, the matches were fantastic and everything seemed to be going very well. But much like what happened with Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles, a charismatic heel came along and snatched the attention away from the babyface champ, and the Smackdown writers seemed so fascinated with their new toy that they forgot to keep their top star busy with worthwhile things to do. Feuding with Mickie James. Ugh. Lynch deserves better.
Monday Night Raw: Chris Jericho
There is absolutely no way that anyone could have predicted that 2016 would be one of the best years of Jericho’s career. It doesn’t even make sense. But with the launch of half a dozen new catchphrases, and a new character that the fans absolutely fell in love with, Jericho dominated our television screens all year, and got a fresh new babyface run out of it. He’s right where he should be right now, in the midcard, entertaining everyone and having a good time. Man, what a find this was.
Monday Night Raw: Rusev (w/Lana)
WHERE HAS HE BEEN? WHERE ARE YOU KEEPING HIM? DID HE MURDER VINCE’S DOG? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
Smackdown Live: The Miz (w/Maryse)
Similar to Jericho on the Raw side, The Miz saw the brand split as an opportunity to show what he had to offer, and holy hell he set Smackdown Live on fire. After a blistering takedown of Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack, Miz then went on to turn in two of the best feuds of the year with Dolph Ziggler, (my vote for feud of the year,) and John Cena, all the while getting better in the ring, and establishing himself as the preeminent talker of his generation. The Miz right now is as good as it gets, and frankly he needs to be in somebody’s main event.
Monday Night Raw: Kevin Owens
While the reign of Owens wasn’t quite as glorious as some expected it to be, Kevin Owens has established himself as a top tier player in WWE, and someone who can eat up an hour of screen time without people getting sick of seeing him. The Festival of Friendship was especially fantastic, as was the lead up to the Goldberg match, and…actually, he is just fantastic in general. He’ll see that title again.
Smackdown Live: Baron Corbin
Smackdown has been trying all year to make Baron Corbin a thing. He’s not.
Monday Night Raw: Enzo and Big Cass
Another big promotional piece that Raw got ahold of, Enzo and Cass are absolutely beloved and get the crowds going, but they are continuously shoe horned into awkward feuds, because they don’t actually have good matches, and they only work as a tag team. It puts the writers in a weird conundrum when all of the other teams are amazing but not over, and Enzo Cass are over but far from amazing. They’ll sort it out eventually, but for now its a weird dynamic.
Monday Night Raw: Gallows and Anderson
Smackdown Live: American Alpha
I really wish I could say that American Alpha propelled the Smackdown tag division to incredible heights, because they are an exceptional team that has shown flashes of brilliance when given the opportunity. But the way they were brought in was bungled and rushed, and they spent all year just kind of being there, while all of the other divisions got the bulk of the attention. Their feud with the Usos never got the blow off it deserved, and that’s a shame because there was something special there.
Monday Night Raw: The Big Show
Barely got any use out of him, though that match with Braun is pretty fun.
Smackdown Live: Dolph Ziggler
His newly minted heel run seems to have petered out already, but the early months after the brand split were HUGE for Dolph Ziggler. His feuds with Ambrose and Miz put his name back on the map and gave him credibility and relevance for the first time in years. Then he spent 3 months futily trying to get Apollo Crews over and, well, back to square one.
Monday Night Raw: Nia Jax
This pick didn’t yield much for the first 6 months, but Jax has come on strong recently, managing to get herself involved in the Raw Women’s title match at Wrestlemania and being presented as a dominant force fairly often. I don’t think she’s ever going to be the monster that they want her to be, and she’s still extremely limited, but it wasn’t a bad first year at all.
Monday Night Raw: Neville
Absent for most of the year, he wound up coming back to take hold of the flagging crusierweight division and turn it into something watchable. I’m not sure whether 205 Live technically qualifies as part of Raw or not, but whatever the case may be, he’s clearly the most valuable member of that division by a mile.
Smackdown Live: Natalya
Considering that her career had all but been left for dead by WWE coming into this draft pick, Smackdown wound up getting a ton of mileage out of her over the past year. She’s been involved in pretty much every women’s feud in some way or other, and her feud with Nikki Bella in particular worked surprisingly well.
Monday Night Raw: Cesaro
On the surface it may seem like a waste to have Cesaro stuck in a tag team all year long, but having Cesaro and Sheamus organically grow their “WHO IS THE TOUGHEST” feud into a fan favorite team is an impressive accomplishment, and they mesh so well that they have something really viable in the two of them. Maybe one day Cesaro will get that fabled singles push, but in the meanwhile, he’s doing just fine.
Smackdown Live: Alberto Del Rio
Monday Night Raw: Sheamus
His fate was tied up with Cesaro all year long, but rather than it being a potential obstacle in road of his career, this tag team has revitalized Sheamus and is finally the thing that has caused people to want to cheer him after all these years. I have a feeling curmudgeonly badass Sheamus will be with us for years to come.
Alright! That marks the end of the draft they did on tv. For the rest, i’ll be doing one line though along with their grades!
Golden Truth – D – Do they still work here?
The Usos – B- – Found new life as heels.
Titus O’Neil – F – Waste of everyone’s time.
Kane – D – Barely used, clearly at the end of his career.
Paige – F – Not a great year for Paige. Just saying.
Darren Young – F – If they thought they had something with the Backlund push, they don’t think so any more.
Kalisto – D+ – They have never seemed sure of what they have in him. An afterthought.
Sin Cara – D – Helped to establish the crusierweights during the desperate early days. Vanished without a trace.
Naomi – B+ – Went from irrelevant to the most over female performer on Smackdown in record time.
Jack Swagger – F – Enjoy TNA, Jack.
The Ascension – F+ – The plus is only because I like their music.
The Dudley Boys – D+ – They didn’t last too far into the brand split, but they had some fun matches and put over The Club.
Zack Ryder – D – Woo Woo Woo, Where Are You?
Summer Rae – F – If i’m not mistaken, she still hasn’t made her Raw debut.
Apollo Crews – F – What is the opposite of over? Under? Yeah, Crews is under.
Mark Henry – D – Good for the occasional nostalgia pop. Career is done.
Alexa Bliss – A+ – There are two A+s down here in the cellar of the draft and this is one of them. The Smackdown women’s division belongs to her, and they have made it extremely clear that they think she’s a star. Probably the best promo of any women’s wrestler on the roster.
Braun Strowman – A+ – Here’s the other one! His momentum has fallen quite a bit, but they for 4 months of fantastic rampaging out of the guy.
Breezango – D+ – Yeah, they’re jobbers. But they’re fun ones.
Bo Dallas – F – Dud.
Eva Marie – F – They had something interesting cooking with her refusal to actually wrestle, but the Wellness suspension killed it dead.
The Shining Stars – F – Poor Primo and Epico. I don’t think they’ve had an uninterrupted promo or match since they debuted.
The Vaudevillains – F – Rest In Obscurity, Simon Gotch.
Alicia Fox – D – Fox has done some good work as a manager on 205 Live.
Erick Rowan – D – Injured almost all year, he just returned to rejoin the Wyatt Family.
Dana Brooke – D+ – It seemed like they were going to have something with Dana turning on Charlotte. Never went anywhere.
Mojo Rawley – D+ – Nothing to do all year, but he won the Andre Memorial Battle Royal and he’s friends with Gronk!
Curtis Axel – D – The most beloved jobber on the roster somehow.
Carmella – B – As the last pick in the draft, they’ve gotten a ton of value out of her this year.
Alright, so now that the grading it done, let’s crunch the numbers and figure out which of these two brands had the best draft!
MONDAY NIGHT RAW: B-
SMACKDOWN LIVE: B
So there you have it. In a shocking finish, there now is no A show in the WWE anymore! There is only the B show and the B- show. Someone alert Vince. I think he has some priorities to shift. At any rate, I hope you enjoyed my breakdown of the 2016 WWE Draft, and stay tuned next week, when we’ll have a brand new NXT Scouting Report.