The WWE Draft returned to our screens once more on April 28 2023 – and it shall be continuing on Monday Night Raw tonight. Splitting the bulk of WWE‘s roster across its two major brands, Raw and SmackDown, the draft is often looked towards with much anticipation. Over the years, Superstars have found their careers jump-started by moving to another show and in recent times, the WWE Draft has also been an excellent platform to call-up a newer star from NXT onto the main roster.
While the draft has certainly done more than its fair share for the careers of some WWE Superstars, there have also been a few draft picks who were adversely affected by being moved. In fact, for every amazing draft pick, there has been one who could have done better. Let’s go year by year and take a look at the best and worst picks from every WWE Draft.
Disclaimer: This list will only consider actual draft picks and not post-draft trades. Also, the 2006 Draft will be excluded as there were only two picks.
Best: The Rock
It seems very fitting to start off this list with the first ever draft pick in WWE history. Chosen by Vince McMahon to join SmackDown in the 2002 Draft, The Rock was arguably the biggest WWE superstar who was eligible to be drafted that night. Becoming part of a show based on a tern coined by the “Great One” himself, starting the first ever draft with a star the caliber of The Rock certainly helped set the standard for the night and for future drafts to follow. The Rock would remain at the top of the card following his move to SmackDown and would win the Undisputed Championship later that year.
Worst: Chris Benoit
The fifth overall pick of the 2002 Draft, Chris Benoit was also slated to join the SmackDown brand. At the time, the “Rabid Wolverine” was a prominent upper-mid-card talent who had the potential to succeed on either brand. Perhaps recognizing that potential, Benoit was drafted despite being injured at the time.
Recovering from neck surgery, Benoit ended up not appearing for the blue brand at all, instead making his return as a RAW superstar with no explanation as to why. While Benoit did have a good career in the years to follow and was not a bad pick per-se, it did seem that drafting him to SmackDown in 2002 appeared like a complete waste of a draft pick.
The 2004 WWE Draft marked a change in the selection process for potential draftees. Rather than being specifically selected by the General Managers of each brand, Superstars were seemingly drafted at random to add a sense of unpredictability to each pick. One of these “random” picks was Edge. Moving from SmackDown to Raw, Edge was a moderately successful babyface who was transitioning from the tag division to a solo career.
Edge quickly achieved success on Raw where he won both the World Tag Team Championship and Intercontinental Championship. While an injury briefly sidelined him, Edge would turn heel following his recovery and would soon become the Ultimate Opportunist. The move to Raw helped solidify Edge as a bona fide main event talent and paved the way for future championships and all manner of well-deserved accolades in his legendary career.
Worst: Paul Heyman
At the time of the 2004 WWE Draft, Paul Heyman was the General Manager of the Smackdown brand and had been overseeing the picks throughout the night. By the latter half of the show however, Heyman himself would be drafted. Moving to Raw, Heyman immediately quit the company due to his refusal to work under Eric Bischoff.
While this made for a memorable moment, the events to follow made Paul Heyman 2004’s worst WWE Draft pick. Rather than be used to write Heyman out of storylines or to build towards another angle, Heyman would be replaced as SmackDown GM by Kurt Angle and would simply return to the blue brand himself not too long after as a manager. Once again, it seemed like a wasted pick as the draftee simply returned to their prior show with no particular reason given.
Best: John Cena
This one goes without saying. In mid-2005, John Cena had won the WWE Championship and was all-set to be pushed as the face of the company. With the company now wanting their next top-star on their flagship show, Cena would be moved from SmackDown to Raw, taking the WWE Championship with him. A bona fide star, Cena’s move to RAW established him firmly as WWE’s number one player and he stayed at the very top of the card until his transition into a part-time role from the late 2010s.
Worst: Muhammad Hassan
In another world, Muhammad Hassan would have very well gone down in history as one of WWE’s all-time greats. Joining WWE’s roster as a member of the Raw brand, Hassan’s character was certainly interesting. Although a heel, Hassan pushed a message that stood against discrimination, exposing the prejudices of the audience as well as his own hypocrisy. Hassan’s dynamic was almost unheard of and had all the potential to tastefully tackle some very real issues.
Unfortunately, by the time Hassan was drafted to Smackdown, his character had begun to lean into a more stereotypical and offensive direction. Following a controversial angle with The Undertaker airing at the same time as the 2005 London Bombings, sponsors ordered WWE to pull the Muhammad Hassan character from TV. A short time later, the rising star was written out of storylines permanently, never re-emerging in WWE since.
Best: William Regal
A seasoned veteran of WWE by this point already, William Regal is both a master of technical wrestling and a natural entertainer. Often excelling best as a snobby but comedic villain, Regal’s move from RAW to SmackDown in 2007 marked another chapter in the career of this experienced performer. A supplemental draft pick whose move was initially viewed with little fanfare, William Regal would soon become the General Manager of Raw.
Shedding his comedic elements in favour of ruling the red brand as a sadistic tyrant, Regal would also win the 2008 King of the Ring and proclaim himself “the most powerful entity in the WWE.” While a suspension may have derailed a rumoured World-Title push, the Gentleman Villain would cap off this career renaissance with an Intercontinental Championship win.
Worst: Chris Masters
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Chris Masters was viewed at the time, as one of WWE’s rising stars in the making. Sporting a chiseled physique and an interesting character, the “Masterpiece” fit the mold of the ideal WWE Superstar. Having proven himself as a capable upper-mid card heel on RAW, Masters seemed comfortable in the championship scene.
Unfortunately, when Masters was moved to the blue brand in the 2007 draft, injuries and a suspension hampered his career. Just five months later, Masters would be released from WWE. While he did return in 2009, The Masterpiece was not featured as prominently as he had been in the earlier days of his WWE career.
Best: CM Punk
A wrestling superstar who had long since made his name from outside the confines of WWE, CM Punk had also more than proven himself to be a major player within the company as well. Having already risen to the top of the revamped ECW brand, Punk was given the opportunity to win the Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania 24. Moving from ECW to Raw with the briefcase in tow.
Just a week later, Punk would cash in the briefcase and win the World Heavyweight Championship. During his time on Raw, Punk would also enjoy reigns as Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion, winning every eligible title the red brand had to offer at the time. Come WrestleMania 25, the Straight-Edge Superstar would once again win the Money in the Bank briefcase, certainly showing that he had a far more fruitful year than his fellow draftees that year.
Worst: Jim Ross
The voice of Raw for over a decade by that point, the partnership between Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler is viewed by many as the greatest commentary duo in the history of WWE. So, when the decision was made to split this iconic duo up at the 2008 WWE Draft, most fans were left displeased. Perhaps what makes this draft pick the worst of 2008 (and perhaps even of all time) was the fact that JR was not informed of this beforehand.
On camera, Ross was legitimately shocked at having to be moved to SmackDown without prior notice and was so enraged that he almost walked out on WWE that same night. It was not so much an actual draft pick as it was yet another mean-spirited rib to one of the company’s most revered personalities.
Best: CM Punk
Having had quite the successful run on Raw after being drafted there the year prior, CM Punk was back on his way to the blue brand during the 2009 WWE Draft. Interestingly, Punk was once again the Money in the Bank contract holder after having won the briefcase for the second straight year at WrestleMania 25. While Punk’s 2008 draft showed that he could be a capable top level babyface, Punk’s 2009 saw a turn to the dark side for the Straight Edge Savior.
Cashing in his briefcase in devious fashion against Jeff Hardy, CM Punk became one of WWE’s top heels and worked main event programs with the likes of Hardy, The Undertaker and Triple H among others. It was also during this time where Punk’s outspoken and belligerent nature really began to become a part of his character and set him on the way to becoming the controversial but equally renowned superstar known throughout the world of wrestling.
Worst: Candice Michelle
Let’s preface this by saying that this is truly no fault on the part of Candice Michelle at all. A popular, capable and hardworking superstar, Michelle has demonstrated on numerous occasions that when given the opportunity, she is more than able at making the most of it. However, when Michelle was drafted from Raw to SmackDown in 2009, she simply never appeared for the blue brand and was released from WWE just two months later. Anyone in this position would objectively be considered a bad draft pick and for 2009, it unfortunately just happened to be Candice Michelle.
Having recently returned to WWE just over a year prior, Christian had been the face of WWE’s ECW brand until its cancellation in February 2010. Despite that, it was clear that WWE had bigger plans in mind for the experienced superstar. Moving to Smackdown in the 2010 draft, Christian enjoyed a prominent position on the card. While an injury temporarily put him on the shelf, Christian was able to find great success on the blue brand upon his return.
Becoming a two-time World Heavyweight Champion, Christian could work at a top level as both a heroic babyface and a slimy heel. Throughout the remainder of Christian’s WWE tenure, he would pick up one more Intercontinental Championship and maintained a high position on the card.
Another draft pick from the recently cancelled ECW brand, Goldust found a new home on Raw. At the time, the second generation veteran was one of WWE’s resident comedy characters and usually found himself in lighthearted programs with the likes of Aksana and Ted DiBiase jr. While he was certainly effective in his role, he wasn’t often given much room to showcase his impressive in-ring talents. A shoulder injury in December 2010 took him off the active roster and Dustin Rhodes soon became a backstage producer.
However, in 2013 The Bizarre One would return to WWE TV showcasing a far leaner physique and more athletic moveset. Although the saying “better late than never” certainly applies here, it would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if this career resurgence took place just a few years earlier.
Best: Mark Henry
The WWE Draft has often been touted for its ability to revitalize the careers of the wrestlers who are drafted. This could not be more true than in the case of Mark Henry in 2011. Having been on the roster since 1996, Henry was one of WWE’s longest tenured wrestlers but was still seen by many as having yet to fulfill his potential. Having played from everything from a comedic babyface to a menacing heel, the “World’s Strongest Man” seemed unable to really find his niche.
Come the 2011 draft however, this all changed. Having wrestled as a generic babyface on Raw, Henry would turn heel the very same night he was drafted. Over the next few weeks, Henry would establish the Hall of Pain and deliberately injure both his fellow wrestlers and anyone else around him. Demonstrating his ability to cut eloquent but intimidating promos, the veteran had finally found his feet. Later that year, Henry would win the World Heavyweight Championship, a well-deserved accolade for a Hall of Fame career.
Worst: John Cena
The only person in this list to be both a best and worst draft pick, John Cena is also the only person to ever be drafted twice in one night. Moving from Raw to SmackDown as the first draft pick of the night, fans were certainly abuzz by the shocking move. Come the end of the night however, Cena would be conveniently drafted back from SmackDown to Raw. It was simply lazy storytelling designed to get a pop out of the crowd that night. In hindsight however, we should have known that Cena wouldn’t be leaving the red brand at the time.
Best: Finn Bálor
Following a five-year period where the brand split was temporarily abolished, the WWE draft returned in 2016. Another interesting new feature of the draft, was the introduction of the NXT brand into the mix. With Raw and SmackDown both being allowed picks from the black and yellow brand, few made as big a splash as Finn Bálor.
The fifth overall draft pick of the night, Bálor was also the first NXT Superstar to be called up during the draft. Being picked before the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar, there were big plans in mind for Bálor. On his very first night on Raw, Bálor would beat Roman Reigns clean and later became the first-ever Universal Champion at SummerSlam 2016.
While an injury forced him to vacate the title, all was not lost for Bálor as he continued to have a fruitful run with the company. Winning titles, main eventing shows and as popular as ever, the now villainous Finn Bálor continues to be a major part of WWE as the leader of The Judgement Day. To date, Bálor has set the standard for an NXT draft pick.
Worst: Alberto Del Rio
The 2016 WWE Draft marked a particularly strong period in WWE programming. In fact, many of the draftees benefitted greatly from their respective new brands. A glaring exception to this was Alberto Del Rio. The multi-time world champion had only recently returned to WWE in October 2015. Coming back strong with a huge win over John Cena for the US Title, things soon began to unravel for the Mexican Aristocrat.
Saddled in the ill-fated League of Nations stable, Del Rio was soon relegated to becoming fodder for Roman Reigns and was seen as just another henchman to The Authority. By the time the League had broken up, Del Rio was lost in the shuffle and was not happy about his position on the card. Exercising an opt-out clause in his contract, Del Rio and the WWE mutually agreed to part ways less than three months after he was drafted to the blue brand.
Best: Jinder Mahal
In 2017, the WWE Draft was renamed as the Superstar Shake-Up. It functioned similarly to the old draft but the selection process became primarily trade based. No superstar has ever benefitted from the Shake-Up as much as Jinder Mahal. Having returned to WWE in 2016, Mahal remained low on the card as a jobber heel. When he was moved from Raw to SmackDown in 2017, nobody batted an eye.
However, as soon as he made the move to the blue brand, Mahal suddenly shot up to the top of the card, becoming the number one contender to the WWE Championship and winning the title from Randy Orton at Backlash 2017. Almost overnight, Mahal had gone from an afterthought to becoming Smackdown’s top heel and the reigning WWE Champion.
Say what you want about Mahal’s ability or WWE’s motives in making him champion, it cannot be denied that Jinder Mahal proved himself to be the best pick among all the Superstars in the 2017 Superstar Shake-Up. It truly goes to show how a change of show can do wonders to even the most stagnating careers.
Worst: David Otunga
Having been on WWE’s main roster in 2010, David Otunga was a two-time WWE Tag Team Champion who had enjoyed prominence as both a member of The Nexus and as the villainous legal advisor of John Laurinaitis. By 2016, after years of inactivity as a wrestler, Otunga became a commentator for SmackDown. The following year, he was sent to Raw in exchange for Byron Saxton.
At the time, Otunga was filming a movie and could not immediately assume the role of the Red Brand’s babyface colour commentator. Instead he was substituted by Booker T, who was meant to fill in for Otunga until his return. However, Otunga simply never came back as a member of the Raw announce team and instead was relegated to roles on the pre-show and post-show panels. While non-wrestlers generally make for weak draft picks, this was perhaps the weakest one of all.
Best: Drew McIntyre
Although touted as a future World Champion, Drew McIntyre was released by WWE in 2014 after having slid down the card in the years prior. Come 2017 however, The Scottish Warrior had become a well-travelled veteran of the wrestling world and was called back to WWE for another shot at glory. Returning in 2017, McIntyre was first brought back as part of NXT where he won the NXT Title and enjoyed a stint as the brand’s top babyface.
Feeling that he was ready to return to the main roster, McIntyre was brought back as Dolph Ziggler‘s villainous enforcer. Soon winning the Raw Tag Titles with Ziggler, McIntyre worked programs with some of WWE’s biggest stars of the time. WWE was smart to slowly ease McIntyre into the main event scene rather than shove him down the fan’s throats. In the months to follow, McIntyre would betray Ziggler and gradually transition into a babyface.
Less than two years after being called back to the main roster, McIntyre was wrestling in the main event of WrestleMania, beating Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title. The prophecy had finally come true and it all began with McIntyre’s return to the RAW brand in 2018.
Worst: Eric Young
While we’ve covered a couple of amazing NXT call-ups from the draft, there will inevitably come a time where we have to look at a bad one. Called up as part of SAnitY in the 2018 Shake-up, Eric Young and his stable seemed poise for big things. After all, they were tearing down the house down in NXT. Unfortunately, this success did not translate into a good main roster run for the group.
SAnitY were losing matches right off the bat and went for extended periods without even being featured on TV. Less than a year later, the group disbanded. Nikki Cross became a multi-time champion, Killian Dain returned to NXT and Alexander Wolfe went to NXT UK as part of Imperium. Young however, became lost in the shuffle, something especially unfortunate considering how he was the group’s most tenured and experienced member.
2019 (Superstar Shake-Up)
Best: Roman Reigns
2019 was a good year for Roman Reigns on both a professional and personal level. Earlier that year, Reigns had overcome Leukaemia and was able to return to WWE after four months away from the company. Upon his return, Reigns had also been able to finally get the crowd on his side. Although heavily pushed as WWE’s next big hero, Reigns was heavily booed by the fans who felt forced into having to support him.
Since coming back. Reigns enjoyed organic crowd support and his overall character was tweaked to be less larger than life and more akin to his true self. The Big Dog was also strategically placed away from the World Title scene for an extended time in order to allow for this newfound support to build. Reigns enjoyed a high spot on the card nonetheless and seemed ready to re-enter the title scene in 2020. While the pandemic temporarily prevented from happening, it did allow Reigns the time off required to set up a shocking return as the villainous Tribal Chief.
Terrorising the blue brand ever since, Reigns’ move to Smackdown in 2019 would soon set the stage for the genesis of one of WWE’s most dominant champions of all time. As of this writing, Reigns will be approaching 1000 days as WWE’s Undisputed Universal Champion.
Worst: Eric Young
While we were talking about Eric Young being lost in the shuffle earlier, one big reason for this was due to his move from SmackDown to Raw in 2019. Following SAnitY’s disappointing 2018, the 2019 Superstar Shake-up marked a definitive end for the group as they broke up following Young’s departure.
Young would remain on Raw as a lower-card Superstar. He would be released the following year having made no impact on the main roster whatsoever.
2019 (WWE Draft)
Best: Randy Orton
You probably would have noticed by now that 2019 is the only year to date where a draft was held twice in the same year. Taking place in October 2019, the 2019 WWE Draft marked the event’s return to its original name. Due to the nature of the 2019 draft, many of that year’s picks simply remained on their previously assigned brands. One person to actually move brands was Randy Orton.
Having enjoyed a three year stint on Smackdown where he won the WWE Title, US Title and Smackdown Tag Titles, a change of scene was due. Moving to the red brand Orton had a brief feud with AJ Styles before entering into a well-received program with the returning Edge. Less than a year from being drafted, The Apex Predator would also win his 14th World Title.
Worst: Erick Rowan
2019 was quite the interesting year for Erick Rowan. The former Wyatt Family member began the year strongly by aligning himself with then-WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. Rowan and Bryan would also win the SmackDown Tag Team Titles together. During his time on SmackDown, Rowan enjoyed programs with some of WWE’s biggest names and even picked up a victory against Roman Reigns at Clash of Champions.
Unfortunately, he did not enjoy the same success when he was moved to Raw in the 2019 draft. Rather than carry on as a physically imposing but intellectual giant, Rowan was saddled by poor booking and a confusing storyline where he carried a cage containing a strange spider. He could not recover from this and a few months later, he was released from the company.
Best: Big E
A member of The New Day, Big E was part of one of the most popular factions in the history of WWE. However, those behind the scenes were beginning to feel that the former Intercontinental and NXT Champion was ready for another solo run. Being drafted to Smackdown while his New Day teammates were sent to Raw, Big E left the group on good terms to begin striking out on his own.
Two months into his solo run, the powerhouse captured his second Intercontinental Championship and in 2021, won the Money in the Bank briefcase. Big E would then cash it in successfully and reached the pinnacle of solo success by becoming the WWE Champion. After losing the title to Brock Lesnar, he would rejoin The New Day once more but has been out of action since suffering a broken neck in 2022. While we eagerly await positive news about the beloved superstar, it is always nice to look back at the strong few months he had in the wake of the 2020 WWE Draft.
Worst: Arturo Ruas
Called up from NXT, Arturo Ruas was both a wrestler and a martial artist. With an extensive background in Jiujitsu, the Brazilian superstar had quite the interesting selection of moves in his arsenal. Drafted to Raw, Ruas unfortunately did nothing of note. In fact, he never once appeared on the red brand since being drafted.
Aside from a few appearances on Raw underground which took place prior to the draft, Ruas was mainly confined to NXT. Less than a year from his failed call-up to Raw, Arturo Ruas would be released from his WWE contract.
Best: Seth Rollins
Hailed as one of WWE’s best all-round Superstars today, Seth Rollins truly excelled in any role he was playing. Be it the heroic Kingslayer or the villainous Messiah, Rollins always put his all into these characters and backed it up with his sheer skill between the ropes. Moving from SmackDown to Raw in 2021, Rollins’ character would also evolve.
Becoming The Visionary, Rollins would act and dress outlandishly, acting more unhinged than usual. However, this new character soon brought new success as well. The Visionary was a notable presence in the WWE and Universal Title scenes and enjoyed high-level programs with the likes of Bobby Lashley, Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes among others.
Since re-joining RAW, Rollins was also instrumental in elevating the United States Championship and became only the third champion in history to survive a Money in the Bank cash-in. Rollins’ efforts soon earned him the respect of the fans and has transitioned him into a babyface yet again. Still a key member of the RAW roster, many see Seth Rollins as a favorite to win the newly revived World Heavyweight Championship.
Worst: Hit Row
It’s one thing to mess up a single NXT call-up, but to mess up four in one go is something especially unfortunate. Made up of Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, Top Dolla, Ashante “Thee” Adonis and B-Fab, the group made waves in NXT. Swerve in particular was a prominent member of the black and yellow brand who had a good reign as North American Champion.
When the group was drafted to Smackdown, fans were excited at the emergence of the popular stable on the main roster. However, just a month later, all four members of Hit Row were released from WWE. In the blink of an eye, four promising talents were stopped dead in their tracks.
Fortunately, a year later, Top Dolla, Adonis and B-Fab were brought back into the fold. Hopefully this time around, they’ll be given the time to make some sort of splash on the main roster.
Get Ready For The 2023 WWE Draft
With a roster more stacked than its been in years, a newly revived World Title and a changing of the guard in WWE’s creative team, the 2023 WWE Draft stands to be an especially unpredictable event. With the potential to both help or hurt the careers of those drafted, let’s hope that more superstars are able to benefit from whatever brands they are assigned to coming out of this year’s draft.
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