Grading the WWE draft six months later

It’s been just over six months since the WWE draft. Since that time, WWE has had three of their big four pay-per-views of the year and we’re now on the Road to WrestleMania. I thought it might be a good time to go back and look at the draft in retrospect.

I will look at all 30 individuals drafted on the live special and assign a letter grade based on their draft position and how their career has gone since then. Then I’ll look at the people who were drafted on the post-show special on the Network and identify sleeper picks.

The final pieces are the wrestlers who have been added since the brand split and their impact on their brand and WWE as a whole.

2016 WWE Draft —

Raw’s picks —

1. Seth Rollins — B-

Rollins returned from injury shortly before he was drafted but came back to be part of the focal point of Raw storylines during a period when ratings were declining. He just recently suffered another injury which puts his WrestleMania status in doubt.

2. Charlotte — A

She’s been the focal point of the women’s division and part of the first ever women’s match to headline a WWE PPV.

3. Finn Balor — B

Really, this should be “incomplete” but I think he made enough of an impact in the short time before getting injured to warrant a letter grade.

4. Roman Reigns — B

Very similar to Rollins, except he managed to stay healthy through the time frame.

5. Brock Lesnar — A-

Very good use of him, especially considering the draft position. When he’s there, he’s generally the focus of the show and will almost certainly be a part of the closing match at Mania.

6. The New Day — B-

They held the tag team titles for most of the time period, setting the all-time WWE/WWF record for the longest reign. They feel colder now than they did before the brand split, though.

7. Sami Zayn — C-

He’s definitely in a worse spot now than when he was drafted. It will be interesting to see what plans, if any, there are for him at Mania.

8. Sasha Banks — B+

She’s been right alongside Charlotte as the focus of the women’s division, although she’s taking a step back now to feud with Nia Jax.

9. Chris Jericho — A

The second biggest steal of the draft given that he’s been one of the four main people focused on for his brand for most of the time period.

10. Rusev w/ Lana — B-

They’re consistently one of the most entertaining acts on the show. Rusev has been kept out of the title picture for the most part or he’d have a higher grade.

11. Kevin Owens — A+

The steal of the draft for either side. With the injury to Balor, he essentially took the ball and ran with it. He will likely take a step back during Mania season as most expect him to lose the Universal title at Fast Lane.

12. Enzo Amore & Big Cass — B

Maybe the best pure babyfaces on the Raw roster as they consistently get the biggest reactions coming out. They’re nowhere close to title contention but not everyone can be.

13. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson — C+

They just recently won the tag team titles, which saved them from a failing grade. They floundered for much of the year.

14. Big Show — C-

Given how often he’s used, he shouldn’t have been drafted on the main show. He’s supposed to have a featured Mania match with Shaquille O’Neal but really has only appeared on Raw a handful of times.

15. Nia Jax — B-

Jax pushed hard out of the gate, getting squash wins for months. Since then, she’s been just outside the fringe of title contention. Should have a big year after Mania.

16. Neville — B

Neville was wasted for most of the time period but has rejuvenated the cruiserweight division since returning.

17. Cesaro — B

He feuded with New Day for most of the time period after being put in a tag team with rival Sheamus and ending their record title reign.

18. Sheamus — B

See Cesaro.

Overall grade for Raw’s main draft — B-

SmackDown’s picks —

1. Dean Ambrose — A-

Ambrose was the World Champion at the time of the draft and carried it to SmackDown. He feuded with AJ Styles over the championship and then moved on to feud with The Miz over the IC title, eventually winning that belt.

2. AJ Styles — A+

Styles has been the World Champion for most of the time period and carried the brand. Yes, he had a high draft position but he performed far better than most thought he would.

3. John Cena — B+

Would be higher if he were more active. Cena feuded almost exclusively with AJ Styles, having excellent matches every time out before winning his 16th World title.

4. Randy Orton — B-

Orton has taken a back seat to Bray Wyatt as part of the Wyatt Family but is coming off winning the Royal Rumble, so obviously he will be a key focus of WrestleMania.

5. Bray Wyatt — B-

Similar to Orton, he hasn’t been close to the title picture at all but was part of the tag champions for a short time.

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6. Becky Lynch — B+

While the SmackDown women’s division hasn’t been quite the focus it has been on the Raw side, it’s not that far off and she was champion for much of the time since the draft.

7. The Miz w/ Maryse — A

Other than Kevin Owens, and perhaps AJ Styles, no one on either brand has improved their stock more than he has. Miz almost single-handedly made Talking Smack a must-watch show early on.

8. Baron Corbin — B

Corbin is just outside the World title picture and may be in for something big at Mania. Other than Orton, he was probably the most impressive SmackDown wrestler at the Royal Rumble.

9. American Alpha — B-

Chad Gable & Jason Jordan came in with a lot of hype but fell off quite a bit. They have started to regain steam after winning the tag titles, but they’re hurt because of the lack of quality teams on this brand.

10. Dolph Ziggler — B

Given his draft slot, he’s been more of a focus than you would’ve expected. His feud with Miz resulted in some of the more entertaining stuff of the latter half of the year on SmackDown.

11. Natalya — C+

The second highest drafted woman on the brand, and for most of the time period she may not even been top five in terms of focus. She looks to be involved with Nikki Bella in the near future, which should improve her slot.

12. Alberto Del Rio — D

A complete waste of a pick, especially in hindsight.

Overall grade for SmackDown’s main draft — B

Secondary Draft —

Raw picked up Braun Strowman with their 28th pick (48th overall), but other than that, there’s not a single person they drafted that even came close to making an impact.

Raw’s grade — C

SmackDown got current Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss with the pick before Strowman. They also got the Usos, who were tag team contenders, and Carmella with the last pick of the draft.

SmackDown’s grade — B-

Free Agents (additions since the draft) —

On the Raw side, obviously the biggest addition has been Goldberg, who alone would win them this category. Dragging them down somewhat would be the addition of all the cruiserweights who thus far would have to be considered a disappointment with the exception of Neville, who was drafted. They also added Bayley, who has done very well.

Raw’s grade — B+

SmackDown got the first free agent, Heath Slater, who won the tag team titles and has improved his stock quite a bit in the last six months. They also added jobber James Ellsworth, who ended up a World title challenger on TV for a few months.

Rhyno was added as Slater’s partner and the Spirit Squad were even brought in for a short run. Curt Hawkins has floundered. On the women’s side, Nikki Bella is always going to be a focus and Mickie James has not been around long enough to give a proper valuation.

SmackDown’s grade — B

Based on these letter grades, SmackDown would be the higher ranked show which seems to coincide with popular opinion. SmackDown’s TV ratings are way up since the brand extension while Raw’s have fallen, although most of the time period happened during football season when ratings always drop.

SmackDown only had 11 wrestlers in the Royal Rumble, though, as opposed to 18 Raw wrestlers (and one NXT superstar). Those numbers are almost the same as the advantage Raw had going into the draft (18 picks to 12) so that shouldn’t be a surprise.

More concerning, if you’re a SmackDown fan, would be the fact that of the other four main card matches at the Royal Rumble, only one was a SmackDown match. They did have two of the three pre-show matches, so that would be three out of seven overall which again is the same ratio as the draft picks.

Looking ahead to Mania, it does seem that most of the big matches would be on the Raw side with Goldberg/Lesnar, Undertaker/Reigns, Triple H/Rollins (if Rollins gets cleared in time), and matches involving Owens and Charlotte. On the SmackDown side, it looks to be Wyatt/Orton and whatever John Cena and AJ Styles are doing.

Overall, it does appear that the brand split has been a positive for the most part. Raw ratings have been down, though that was going to happen anyway. The increased main event slots on both sides have allowed wrestlers like Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Charlotte, and The Miz, among others, to improve their position in the company.

With SmackDown ratings showing a considerable increase at a time when TV ratings as a whole are trending downward, it has to help WWE as they attempt to negotiate a new television deal over the next couple of years.