The 2016 WWE draft has quickly become the company's most anticipated event of the year to date, and with a little over a week to go until the epic occasion on July 19, fans are still scrambling to finish their fantasy rosters for Raw and SmackDown.
Rules as to how the rosters will be decided by the newly named COOs have yet to be made clear by WWE, but one can only assume that the head officials for each show will go back and forth in choosing talent and that anyone will be eligible, including champions.
This will mark the first such draft in over five years, and if history has taught us anything, it's that anything is bound to occur at the event. Talents can be traded, tag teams can be split up and familiar faces can return.
WWE has touted the draft as a historic happening, so under no circumstances can it disappoint. It should also set the stage for feuds that are likely to unfold over the weeks that follow.
In anxious anticipation of this year's monumental milestone, here is a mock draft using the current roster of WWE and NXT.
Up first, the Raw roster may not be as stacked with as much star power as it was a decade ago, but the point was to make the two brands as equal as possible and give them their own identities. Here is what the flagship show ended up looking like.
|WWE Mock Draft: Raw Roster|
|1.||Dean Ambrose||Ambrose should be the top-tier star on Raw, especially right now as WWE champion. It will finally solidify him as the main event player he is destined to be.|
|2.||Seth Rollins||WWE remains stubborn in turning Rollins babyface, but he can easily be the lead heel on Raw until that turn inevitably occurs.|
|3.||Roman Reigns||In being groomed as the next John Cena, Reigns should be separate from him and resume his ascension up the card once he returns from suspension.|
|4.||Charlotte||As the women's division's lead heel at the moment, Charlotte can continue to come into her own on Raw and bring the belt with her.|
|5.||The New Day||Teases of The New Day splitting up ahead of the draft should be nothing more than a red herring. It is still among WWE's hottest acts and has been one of the best parts about Monday nights for close to a year.|
|6.||Bray Wyatt||With a minimal amount of main event talent at the top of the card, Wyatt should enter title contention before long and complete his long-desired babyface turn.|
|7.||Paige||Paige has been a background player in the women's division for close to a year, but the brand extension should allow her to reclaim her top spot in time.|
|8.||Randy Orton||Placing Orton on a different show than his SummerSlam adversary Brock Lesnar might be a head-scratcher, but he is needed on Raw to bring credibility to the main event and midcard scenes.|
|9.||Rusev (with Lana)||The United States Championship is a fine secondary title for Raw, and there is no reason to break Rusev up from Lana, as they are a dominant power couple.|
|10.||Cesaro||Many might think Cesaro belongs on SmackDown, but there are plenty of other up-and-comers on that show as it is, and he would get lost in the shuffle. Similar to Wyatt, perhaps a push is in his future after the draft, one that has been long overdue.|
|11.||American Alpha||American Alpha is the first to be called up from NXT for the Raw roster. Already having won (and lost) the NXT Tag Team Championship, it's high time it take its rightful place on the main roster.|
|12.||Alexa Bliss||Although Bliss is still a work in progress in the ring, her character development over the last year has been incredible. She is currently needed more on Raw than in NXT.|
|13.||Dolph Ziggler||It's possible Ziggler will benefit from the brand split and return to main event status, but he would be better served putting over the talent of tomorrow as he has in recent months.|
|14.||Baron Corbin||Corbin has plenty of potential to emerge as a monster heel on Monday nights. As long as Ziggler is kept far away from Corbin, he could be a hidden gem on Raw.|
|15.||Bobby Roode||Raw should close out its draft picks with one of the hottest free agents in wrestling, Bobby Roode. An NXT run has been teased, but it's apparent he is and has been ready for the main roster for quite a while.|
|Picks, notes by Graham Matthews|
As the current WWE champion, there is no doubt Dean Ambrose should be among the first Superstars drafted. What COO wouldn't want the most prestigious belt on their show, especially since it has yet to be confirmed that the World Heavyweight Championship will be brought back in the near future?
The fact that the blockbuster Shield Triple Threat match is taking place at July 24's Battleground and not at SummerSlam has led fans to believe Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns will be split up in the draft. That could be the case, but it would be better to see them cemented as the cornerstones of the Monday night program in the absence of John Cena.
Needless to say, more than three women will be a part of each show, but Charlotte, Paige and Alexa Bliss were my premier picks for Raw. The WWE Women's Championship has long been a staple of the show, and Charlotte would have her hands full with the debuting Bliss, who is ready to break off on her own in WWE.
Although only Bray Wyatt's name appears on the Raw roster, don't fret; The Wyatt Family will still be together on Monday nights. There were more notable names to include in the top 15, however.
American Alpha is also among the call-ups from NXT arriving on Raw. The group would be the perfect opponent for The New Day, who should remain together as a cohesive unit despite what has been teased recently on WWE programming.
Finally, we round out Raw's top 15 draft picks with the surprise selection of Bobby Roode. It might be a matter of time before he debuts in NXT, but he would be better suited for the main roster, given his readiness for the Raw spotlight and ability to make a major impact (no pun intended) from the get-go.
|WWE Mock Draft: SmackDown Roster|
|1.||Finn Balor||Choosing Balor as the premier pick for SmackDown would send the message that anything can happen at WWE's most unpredictable event of the year.|
|2.||John Cena||SmackDown was where he started his WWE career, and that is where he should end it. He can help elevate a number of new stars while maintaining his own presence on WWE TV.|
|3.||AJ Styles||AJ Styles could very well end up being the biggest beneficiary of the brand split. He has "world champion" written all over him and would ideally be the brand's top heel.|
|4.||Brock Lesnar||While he won't be around all that often, Lesnar's sporadic appearances can boost the profile of the blue brand and act as a platform to promote his upcoming fights.|
|5.||Sasha Banks||The Boss has long desired to be a part of SmackDown and can be given time to shine as the top dog with Charlotte on Raw.|
|6.||Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson||The Club has been an absolute riot and should by no means be split up in the draft. Gallows and Anderson can be the standard-bearers of SmackDown's tag team scene once they eventually capture the twin titles.|
|7.||Kevin Owens||Over the past year, Owens has solidified himself as a star on the rise, but he needs that one opportunity to prove he is worthy of a world championship. Moving him to SmackDown would succeed in doing just that.|
|8.||Becky Lynch||Lynch can be a cornerstone of SmackDown's women's division and play the Lita to Sasha Banks' Trish Stratus going forward.|
|9.||Sami Zayn||WWE is promoting his Battleground bout with Kevin Owens as their final faceoff, but they are money together and should resume their rivalry post-draft on SmackDown.|
|10.||Chris Jericho||Since returning at the onset of 2016, Jericho has been doing some of the best work of his career and should thrive as a heel in the seasoned-veteran role on Tuesday nights.|
|11.||Enzo Amore and Big Cass||Officials may see dollar signs in Big Cass as a singles star down the line, but their split shouldn't come any time soon. They are an entertaining act that has barely scratched the surface.|
|12.||Carmella||Along with Alexa Bliss, Carmella is not quite ready for the main roster in terms of in-ring prowess but can continue to hone her skills in the women's division while reuniting with Enzo and Big Cass.|
|13.||The Miz (with Maryse)||The Miz hasn't been a staple on SmackDown in nearly a decade, and although he thrived on Raw earlier in his career, he can make a major difference on the heel side of SmackDown.|
|14.||Apollo Crews||Apollo Crews has been lacking direction since his call-up to the main roster immediately following WrestleMania, but SmackDown is the perfect place for him to find his footing and start building momentum.|
|15.||Zack Ryder||As WWE's ultimate underdog, Ryder should close out the draft and head over to SmackDown in the midst of his resurgence as a midcard mainstay.|
|Picks, notes by Graham Matthews|
It's imperative that SmackDown becomes a top priority coming out of the draft. In order for that to happen, John Cena must fill the vacant spot The Undertaker previously held during the initial brand extension as its lead babyface.
With Cena as the new face of SmackDown, fans will immediately be conditioned to watch the Tuesday night program, and it's only appropriate that his current rival, AJ Styles, be sent to SmackDown as well. Those two should be on a collision course for a rematch at SummerSlam in August.
But the premier pick for SmackDown shouldn't be either of those individuals. To send the message that everyone is eligible and anything is possible, Finn Balor should be the first Superstar drafted to the blue brand.
Balor has been ready for the main roster for quite a while and, following his extraordinary encounter with Shinsuke Nakamura on the July 11 NXT, has nothing left to prove down in developmental. On SmackDown, he can become a major player and would have a program in place with Styles—as well as the rest of The Club—before long.
Brock Lesnar is much more active as an in-ring competitor throughout the year than either The Undertaker or Triple H, so he would be the sole part-timer here. The better part of his first WWE run was spent on SmackDown, and he helped bring the brand to new heights, so a return to his old stomping grounds would be fitting.
As for the women, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch would flourish on Tuesday nights, and The Boss admitted in an interview with Michael Cole that she would love nothing more than to be on the brand her idol, Eddie Guerrero, revolutionized.
Meanwhile, the midcard scene would be stacked with the likes of Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, The Miz and Apollo Crews. Enzo Amore and Big Cass can also add their own flavor to the tag team division by resuming their rivalry with The Club and reuniting with Carmella.
There are a slew of Superstars not featured in the top 30 picks for Raw and SmackDown, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are afterthoughts.
Neville, for example, has been out of sight for many months with an injury, but he should make a splash upon his return to the ring, hopefully on SmackDown, where he wouldn't be as overshadowed.
Dana Brooke has been a prominent figure in the women's division lately, but she should go wherever her old ally, Emma, does, which is SmackDown. Separating her from Charlotte will allow her to make strides as a singles competitor until Emma comes back into the fold this fall.
As for The Usos and The Dudley Boyz, they should not be split up in the draft and would be good fits for Raw. That said, the men of Breezango should go their separate ways so Tyler Breeze can finally fulfill his full potential on SmackDown.
The Lucha Dragons should be broken up as well, with Kalisto drafted to Raw and Sin Cara to SmackDown. The former United States champion shouldn't be relegated to the tag team division post-draft.
Finally, Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton would serve as the SmackDown commentary team, while Mauro Ranallo, Jerry Lawler and Corey Graves would call Raw. The New Era wouldn't be complete without a fresh set of voices on each program.
Other Potential NXT Call-Ups
Several Superstars from NXT were included in this mock draft, but it is possible that we'll see even more up-and-comers surface on the main roster as a result of the brand extension.
Despite currently being in possession of the NXT Championship, Samoa Joe wouldn't be out of place in the slightest on either Raw or SmackDown.
And it isn't unprecedented, either, as Seth Rollins, Big E and Kevin Owens were all called up as NXT champion in years past. There is little question Bayley will be competing on the main stage within the coming months, but I would hold off until after NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 2 and her title rematch with Asuka to bring her up.
Although he isn't the first NXT talent that comes to mind when predicting potential call-ups, Mojo Rawley could finally arrive on Raw or SmackDown alongside Zack Ryder. The Long Island Iced Z deserves to break out as a singles star right now, but joining the tag team ranks as The Hype Bros isn't out of the question.
Following her SmackDown debut against Dana Brooke last month, Billy Kay could be a newcomer to the women's division. Additionally, Austin Aries is a dark horse to be promoted as well, considering his credibility and experience.
As the New Era gets underway on July 19, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the aforementioned athletes and how the 2016 WWE draft will forever affect the landscape of WWE.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a Digital Journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.