We are on the verge of the WWE Draft, and being that I am also an avid NFL fan I thought I would go full Mel Kiper Jr and put together a big board. The rules are fairly simple in that tag teams have been kept together – potentially giving them more value than being drafted as individuals, but it also means that a reasonable tag division can still exist. Other that that everyone is fair game, from non-wrestling talent to NXT performers. The only caveat is that retired/semi-retired wrestlers like The Rock, Triple H or Undertaker are not available and managers go with their stars, so no breaking up Miz & Maryse or Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman.
10. Sasha Banks
The #1 woman on the RealSport big board is The Boss Sasha Banks, and it can’t really be argued that it should be anyone else. Sasha is beloved by the hardcore audience for her run in NXT where she was the driving force of the “Divas Revolution”. There were others, but Sasha’s evolution into a badass worker and talker lead the charge and while WWE threw away all the momentum from that run and her promo writers don’t yet blend well with her style Sasha is still the crown jewel of the division. She brings a reaction out of the crowd that no other woman does and yes there may be some kinks in the road ahead but Sasha is the money of the division, of that there can be no doubt.
9. American Alpha – Chad Gable & Jason Jordan (NXT)
These two are perhaps the biggest success story for NXT. They were amateur wrestlers who came in with no pro wrestling under their belt and have developed into bonafide stars together. Jordan’s size and athleticism is counterbalanced by Chad Gable’s quirky humour and charisma, but Gable can go as well and may well end up as the better in-ring worker of the two. Their amateur background plus Gable’s Olympics appearance in 2012 have brought around plenty of comparisons to Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas, as well as many a fantasy booked angle with Kurt Angle, but they are more than good enough to stand on their own two feet. They come in so high because they have the ability to rock the tag team division and could both be stars in their own right as singles competitors.
8. The New Day
The top group/tag team on the big board, The New Day have taken a terrible gimmick and turned it into one of the most over things in all of wrestling. It’s been such a hot run that it has reset the careers of Kofi Kingston and Big E, who are the stars. Xavier Woods is less likely to become a singles star that the other two but he is perhaps the most beloved of all 3 and quietly one of the best talkers in the company. New Day are current tag team champions but both Kofi and Big E have enough standing with fans to make a run at the big belt and not have it feel out of the blue.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura (NXT)
The king of strong style is possibly the best wrestler in the world today. He dominated New Japan Pro Wrestling and was a massive part of their resurgence. Since coming to NXT he has taken the promotion by storm and quickly become beloved by the crowd while putting on a match of the year candidate with Sami Zayn at NXT Takeover: Dallas. However Nakamura is no spring chicken at 36 and New Japan puts some heavy miles on the body. He is wildly charismatic but just like Asuka the language and culture barrier may prevent a more casual audience connecting with him. Nakamura is a brilliant piece to have though, he will bring a rabid fan base and always deliver in the ring.
6. AJ Styles
WWE have handled AJ pretty well since he arrived in January. He looked strong in the Royal Rumble and has been at the top of the card for a while now, going from a title feud with Roman Reigns straight into one with John Cena. He has had an immediate connection with the audience thanks to putting on great matches and doing things that some fans have not seen before. His mic skills are better than people thought and improving every week. Age is against him, at 39 Styles doesn’t have a lot of tread left on his tires but he is a brilliant performer who can carry a brand and help improve those he works with.
5. Finn Balor (NXT)
The top draft pick from NXT is Finn Balor.
Balor is the longest reigning NXT Champion, winning the championship from Kevin Owens in July 2015 in Japan and then defending it around world. As NXT has grown over the last 12-18 months it is Balor who has sat on top of the promotion and ruled the roost. His feud with Samoa Joe twisted and spiraled through 3 TakeOver main events and two continents before it culminated in the first cage match in NXT. Balor’s main selling points for why he should be a top 5 draft prospect are his brilliant in-ring work, his magnetic charisma and showmanship. His “Demon” persona and entrance are instant crowd pleasers, his history in wrestling – as the founding member of “Bullet Club” – is strong and despite his stature he is a main event talent in the waiting.
4. Roman Reigns
Ah Roman – The marmite of WWE. At least, he was. It used to be that children and women loved Roman Reigns while the older male fans disliked him being catapulted up to the main event over more experienced and talented performers. Now though there is a lot of apathy over Reigns, the booing from loud sections have taken some wind out of his fanbase and the length of his stay in the main event has worn out his detractors. The recent suspension for Wellness Policy violation may see a shift in character or presentation of Reigns, but given that he is still in the main event of Battleground suggests otherwise. Still, WWE have invested a lot of time and effort in Reigns, making him a very valuable commodity in the draft. He does move merchandise and is an established main eventer. He is also extremely physically gifted and has been improving in the ring since the separation of The Shield. While Roman’s “performance” skills of facial expressions and his scripted promos aren’t up to scratch yet he could get there. For all the hate there is a diamond in Roman Reigns, it just might take a little hard work to get it.
3. Seth Rollins
Rollins is a very deserving top 3 draft pick. He carried Raw from WrestleMania 31 to his knee injury in September. His promo skills, from scripted show-openers to reacting to others, is terrific, and then when the bell rings Rollins can go like no other. His ability to take and adapt the movesets of others, from Independent stars to WWE main eventers, show the kind of creativity and trust he has obtained from the back office. Rollins has been a brilliant heel since he turned on The Shield but there is a large section of the fan base who are very ready to cheer Seth Rollins, even at the expense of the magic that Rollins currently has with Dean Ambrose.
2. John Cena
Wait, John Cena at two!? The King of WWE for the last decade plus, Cena is starting to phase out of the full-time schedule. He is booked for only a handful of house shows as he begins to phase into other areas like film and TV. Even with that in mind though Cena is incredibly valuable to the WWE. From the merchandise he pushes out the door to the brilliant PR he does. Things like hosting the ESPYs and all his Make A Wishes are invaluable exposure for whichever WWE brand he is drafted to. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of the “smart” fans have turned into John Cena supporters again following his terrific run with the US Championship and the Open Challenge he ran. Cena is still capable of bringing it in the ring and creating a hot atmosphere when the bell rings. WWE may be making succession plans but Cena doesn’t look like he will be dethroned any time soon – but he is not #1, because of….
1. Brock Lesnar
The Beast Incarnate. The Conqueror. Brock Lesnar is the biggest draw in wrestling, and in UFC. His sporadic appearances may be considered a drawback, and he might not even be in the official WWE draft pool, but when he does show up Lesnar gets the crowd and wider sports media excited like no one else. He is currently booked to have a match with Randy Orton at Summerslam, though his current status with a USADA failed drug test may bring that into question. However he is going to be THE man whenever he shows up and his status as “the one in 22-1” and the conqueror of The Undertaker’s streak means that the next person to beat the Beast is an instant hero and huge star for the WWE. Put Kevin Owens or Cesaro over Lesnar? They will instantly jump up the big board for the next WWE Draft. Let’s not forget that with Lesnar comes Paul Heyman as well, and that is 15 minutes of brilliant promo every time he shows his face. Even with 6 or so matches a year Lesnar is the unquestionable number 1 pick in the WWE draft.