The WWE gave itself a new beginning Tuesday night with seemingly unlimited options to really spruce up both its “Raw” and “SmackDown” shows.
Instead, WWE somehow managed to pretty much keep things as is while splitting up the roster into two brand-exclusive shows.
The decision to move “SmackDown” to Tuesdays and air it live prompted the brand split draft, but after Tuesday’s show at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., it looks like it’s much of the same as WWE continues in its heavily promoted “New Era.”
“Raw” still is the most important show, and “SmackDown” will remain an afterthought. Sure, WWE might put equal production and promotion efforts into both shows, but the most important factors — the talent — heavily favor “Raw,” which will remain the company’s flagship show.
WWE could have gone in so many different directions with so many refreshed storylines, and it instead went in a relatively safe direction. But at this point, this is the sort of thing we should expect from a product that often is pretty stagnant.
That being said, here are our pick-by-pick grades for the top 30 picks in Tuesday’s draft, with the obvious caveat that, yes, we know it was scripted:
1. Seth Rollins (No. 1 overall) — A
Rollins is the future face of the entire company. This was a no-brainer.
2. Charlotte (No. 3 overall) — B+
It’s a nice pick, and it sends the message that the women’s division is going to thrive on Raw.
3. Finn Balor (No. 5 overall) — A+
The first pick from NXT, Balor gives Raw so many options, assuming they don’t screw it up.
4. Roman Reigns (No. 6 overall) — B
Fans seem to hate him more and more every week, and he’s returning from a suspension, but continuing a Reigns-Rollins feud is a license to print money.
5. Brock Lesnar (No. 8 overall) — A-
The UFC/PED mess is undeniable, and Lesnar has cooled off since his most recent return. But he’s still larger than life.
6. The New Day (N0. 10 overall) — A
Not only does The New Day give Raw one of the best tag teams in the company, but the faction’s entertainment factor and promo ability also is huge on the three-hour show.
7. Sami Zayn (No. 11 overall) — B
This seems a little high, especially as Zayn was drafted immediately after being left laying in the middle of the ring Tuesday night.
8. Sasha Banks (No. 13 overall) — A+
If they use her right, Sasha can become one of the biggest women’s stars in WWE history. The fact that Raw got her and Charlotte before SmackDown even took a woman is puzzling.
9. Chris Jericho (No. 15 overall) — C+
10. Rusev (No. 16 overall) — B
Another champion goes to Raw — with Lana — and it’s a safe pick. Hopefully a thinned-down roster means a big push for Rusev, who has untapped potential.
11. Kevin Owens (No. 18 overall) — A-
The only thing keeping this pick from being an A is that it took way too long for Owens to come off the board, which is a potentially alarming look at how WWE really views him.
12. Enzo and Cass (No. 20 overall) — B+
A good pick with the chance to get even better. There’s also the potential for a split, as both could be pretty good on their own.
13. Gallows and Anderson (No. 21 overall) — B
Raw also has a pretty nice tag team division in the making. And while it breaks up “The Club,” there’s plenty of “Bullet Club” history between these two and Finn Balor.
14. Big Show (No. 23 overall) — B-
Theoretically, it’s a good pick. He’s a legend, versatile and well-known, but his best days obviously are behind him.
15. Nia Jax (No. 25 overall) — C+
There’s potential there, sure, but fans obviously would have taken better to a call-up of someone like Bayley or Asuka.
16. Neville (No. 27 overall) — B
The obvious question is whether Neville is inserted into the newly formed cruiserweight division.
16. Cesaro (No. 28 overall) — B+
Do yourself a favor, and go watch Cesaro’s post-show promo to get his thoughts on not only being taken 29th but going to Raw instead of SmackDown. Hopefully he gets a push at some point.
17. Sheamus (No. 30 overall) — C
He was the champion not long ago. And now he’s here. Oof.
Raw overall grade: A
Just look at those first five or six picks and think of all the potential that’s there. Additionally, the Raw roster is much deeper with the opportunity to build supplementary divisions like the tag division and women’s division. Any questions about whether Raw would remain the company’s No. 1 priority were answered with this draft.
1. Dean Ambrose (No. 2 overall) — A
The obvious pick given his status as WWE champion and his recent feud with Rollins. There’s plenty of pressure on him now to carry the SmackDown brand.
2. AJ Styles (No. 4 overall) — A-
Styles going this high as a relative newcomer tells you all you need to know about how the WWE feels about him. He’ll be a fixture on the main event scene for a long time.
3. John Cena (No. 7 overall) — A
Even if Cena cuts back his workload, he’s still arguably the company’s biggest star and legitimizes SmackDown’s relaunch.
4. Randy Orton (No. 9 overall) — B
He has to stay healthy, which has been an issue for a good part of his career. It’s also a little funny to see two longtime veterans like Cena and Orton drafted back to back this high when we’re supposed to view SmackDown as the new, fresh show.
5. Bray Wyatt (No. 12 overall) — A-
Hopefully, they put a rocket on his back and really give him a push. If used correctly, Wyatt actually could be a steal in the long run.
6. Becky Lynch (No. 14 overall) — B
In a vacuum, she’s great. But with the women’s title on Raw, it’s unclear what the long-term future holds for her.
7. The Miz (No. 16 overall) — B-
Drafting him gives SmackDown another title and a solid heel. But not much else.
8. Baron Corbin (No. 18 overall) — C
Just don’t get the Baron Corbin character, at least its current incarnation. Maybe there are bigger plans for the future, but now we’re getting to the part of the roster where Raw really separates itself.
9. American Alpha (No. 22 overall) — B+
These guys gut a huge pop from the crowd Tuesday night, and they were an NXT staple. But they also were the first tag team taken on SmackDown, and the worry is they’ll just kind of … exist.
10. Dolph Ziggler (No. 24 overall) — B
If correctly used, Ziggler’s workrate makes him a perfect pick for the wrestling-focused SmackDown. But there’s nothing in the last year or so that makes you think he’ll be correctly used.
11. Natalya (No. 27 overall) — B
Apparently, she’ll just feud with Becky Lynch for the rest of the time. In all seriousness, Nattie’s in-ring work is among the best in the women’s division. Seems like a good fit.
12. Alberto Del Rio (No. 29 overall) — B-
Just don’t see a scenario in which ADR is used in a way that makes anyone care about him. But who knows?
SmackDown overall grade: B-
It almost feels like the SmackDown grade should be “incomplete.” We’ve mentioned multiple times that Raw will continue to be the top show, but that doesn’t mean SmackDown has to be bad. There’s potential for some real interesting things on this show, but that might need WWE to do some different things in the future. Whether they do that will go a long way in determining the brand’s success.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube/WWE
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