The 2011 WWE draft brought big change to the WWE with abrupt retirement of Edge due to his health. The move included swapping one of the fastest rising heels in Alberto Del-Rio to Monday Night Raw and the company's second most popular baby face in Randy Orton being moved to SmackDown.
With the current absences of Chris Jericho and Dave Batista and uncertainty about their returns (at least for now), WWE is heel heavy due to the recent turn of R-Truth and the injury to John Morrison. No one will be ready to fill Edge's shoes for at least a year, unless Jericho or Batista return, but a couple guys are ready to take big steps towards the main event if their rise to the main stage is handeled properly.
After the breakup with the Miz, Riley seems to be ready for a push. While we don't know the extent, WWE does seem to like his look and talent. Riley finished third in WWE's second season of NXT and has ridden the coat tail of the Miz to this point. A three-to-four-month feud with his former mentor would be great for him to at least move him to upper mid-card status and possibly a US championship run soon after Summerslam, with potential for main event status to come in early 2012.
Moving Randy Orton to SmackDown benefited no one more than Orton's former protege Cody Rhodes. After a tremendous heel turn, followed by a feud with Rey Mysterio, Rhodes seems poised to pursue the World Heavyweight Championship. Rhodes also benefits from the moving of Alberto Del Rio to Raw, allowing Rhodes a share of the top heel status on SmackDown. Rhodes has benefited from some tag-team work with Christian and Orton in the last three months since the draft. Rhodes also developed tremendous mic skills during his feud with Mysterio. An absolute must have for a world champion.
I keep waiting for Skip Sheffield to make his return as a singles competitor. IWC rumors have had his return very soon approaching for a few months now. When Wade Barrett formed the original Nexus, which included Sheffield, I considered him more believable than Barrett. He was considered the powerhouse of the original group and he had decent mic skills. When he does return, expect him to be inserted directly into the world championship picture, regardless of which show he is on. It will probably be SmackDown, so long as Chris Jericho or Batista don't show up first.
I am very skeptical myself of giving Barrett this spot. However, on the SmackDown roster, at least until Chris Jericho returns, (assuming he will before Batista) Barrett makes the most sense for SmackDown to give a big push to.
Barrett is one of a very select few of a group that has better mic than wrestling skills, but factor in that he has excellent experience wrestling with John Cena and Randy Orton both. Ezekiel Jackson would make sense to put in this spot if he had something to bring to the table other than his muscles. Barrett is undisputedly the best product of NXT to this point, and if made to go on an individual singles run apart from Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel or anyone else, Barrett would be a very believable world champion. He could have a breakout summer, potentially winning the money in the bank on the SmackDown side.
Of all on this list, this is the WWE's favorite, and the guy they would like to push the farthest and most quickly.
However, the man from Wales might be the slowest progressing, so long as he continues to lack everything except a look. He is the reason the WWE does not bring back Dave Batista, or at least more quickly. WWE feels they have a suitable replacement and powerhouse role player in Ryan. However, for his potential to be realized, he must learn English as soon as possible so that he can develop mic skills. He must also develop an impact finisher (most likely a powerbomb) to put people away.
Also, his wrestling needs some polishing. His biggest offense is an intimidation factor which makes him vulnerable when facing the likes of Randy Orton and bigger guys like Kane and Big Show. If WWE handles Ryan right, they could easily have the next Batista on their hands.