2017 looks like it has the potential to be a banner year for the WWE. Thanks to a lot of young guns and some veterans with a lot of go left, the company, if it books things right, could turn around almost a decade of declining interest. However, one of the biggest problems facing both brands right now is the fact that their rosters are noticeably lean. The problem is glaringly obvious on RAW, where five wrestlers-- Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, and Braun Strowman--have been forced to carry over 75% of the workload. Over on SmackDown, the paucity of talent is a problem too, but it is mostly covered up thanks to the two hour format.
Although the WWE would be better served to cut back on some of their products (think about it: watching RAW, SmackDown, 205 Live, and NXT is almost seven hours of production every week), they look poised to go the other way and increase all of their rosters with some timely acquisitions. Big names have already been thrown around, so this list seeks to predict where some of these names might fall when they sign their WWE contracts.
16 Pete Dunne, 205 Live
The "Bruiserweight" is already scheduled to appear at WWE's Championship Tournament in the United Kingdom. This means that the brass at WWE are already interested in snatching up the British strong stylist Dunne.
Because of his size (5'11 and 161 pounds), Dunne will be automatically positioned as a Cruiserweight. Hopefully, by 2017, the WWE will figure out what they want to do with 205 Live, an awesome show that has garnered little to no sustained interest. It is also likely that Dunne will make scattered appearances on RAW. His hard-hitting, more traditional grappling style will likely pair well with the more agile cruiserweights, while there is potential in pairing Dunne against Jack Gallagher, a wrestler that he has already faced. Gallagher, as a posh gentleman, is the perfect foil to Dunne's Brummie gruffness.
15 Tessa Blanchard, NXT
Blink and you might have missed Tessa Blanchard's appearance on RAW. During the November 28, 2016 episode, a smiling Blanchard saddled up to the bar next to Sheamus during a vignette. She looked at the "Celtic Warrior," then at Cesaro, before finally taking her red wine to another table.
Blanchard, the daughter of NWA legend and founding member of The Four Horsemen Tully Blanchard, has been a hot commodity on the independent scene lately. Over in Japan she has made major waves as one of the top gaijin in World Wonder Ring Stardom. This family legacy, coupled with her status as a veteran of Japan, will make Blanchard a perfect fit for NXT. She's even appeared in NXT tapings as a jobber. The crowd certainly knew her then, so they'll know her well in 2017.
14 Rachael Ellering, NXT
Like Blanchard, Rachael Ellering is a legacy grappler. Her father, "Precious" Paul Ellering, led The Road Warriors to unparalleled success in the 1980s and 1990s, while his current team, Authors of Pain, looks slated to be the next NXT Tag Team Champions. Because of her father's role in NXT, it's likely that Ellering while appear in Winter Park, Florida after she's scooped up sometime in 2017. Again, Ellering has appeared in NXT before, wrestling as a jobber under the name Rachael Evers. Here's a fun factoid: Evers is the real last name of Lance Storm, Ellering's mentor and coach.
Projecting a little ahead, if the two brands stay they way they are, then Ellering would be a better fit for the SmackDown women's division. Blanchard, on the other hand, would be a better fit on RAW, where her father's history could be put to good use as a friend or partner with Charlotte.
13 Bobby Lashley, RAW
Apparently, former TNA World Heavyweight Champion Bobby Lashley has shot down most rumors concerning his potential return to the WWE. Never say "never," though. Lashley's short time with the company during the mid-2000s saw him pushed to the moon as both the United States Champion and ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Like RAW attraction Brock Lesnar, Lashley has the added bonus of being an experienced mixed martial arts fighter, although Lashley's 15-2 record is much more impressive.
A Lashley-Lesnar feud could be a decent storyline, but Lashley could easily maintain feuds with the likes of Strowman, Owens, Reigns (much could be made of a battle of Spear vs. Spear), and Rollins. Even a Goldberg angle could work, as both men portray a similar type of character. Since RAW is the home of more seasoned pros and veterans, Lashley would be a much better fit in red than blue.
11 Chuck Taylor, NXT
Chuck Taylor is, to many eyes, the antithesis of what a WWE wrestler should be. A tall, lanky competitor with well over a decade of experience, Taylor's upsides have consistently been overlooked because of his preference for doing comedy in and out of the ring. Taylor is far from a serious character, which is made clear by the fact that he's best known for his high-pitched, effeminate screams.
That being said, anyone familiar with Taylor's work in IWA-Mid South knows that the man can be a great heel. Many internet fans consider his storyline as a terrorizer of children to be one of the better things to ever happen in independent wrestling. That angle apparently brought Taylor up close and personal with angry fans, some of whom brandished knives. Now, as one of the key players in Evolve, Taylor has recently showed off his range as a bitter heel. Although he could lose a few pounds and immediately join 205 Live, Taylor is much better suited for the rabid, but small(er) fanbase of NXT.
10 Velvet Sky, NXT
Because of her relationship with Bubba Ray Dudley, former TNA standout Velvet Sky might not join the WWE anytime soon. However, her name has been occasionally thrown out as a possible signee in 2017. It would be wise to pick her up, for Sky, a former two-time TNA Knockout Champion, is capable of great heel work. Although she wrestled for TNA, one of the WWE's biggest competitors in North America, for almost a decade, the treatment of other TNA stars like Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Eric Young, and Bobby Roode indicates that Sky would more than likely go to NXT after signing on with the company.
NXT would be a great way to reintroduce Sky to wrestling audiences. From there, Sky would probably work better as a heel on RAW rather than as a heel on SmackDown. Money could be made in a feud between the vain cheater Sky and the lovable, white meat babyface Bayley.
9 Eli Drake, NXT
Like the aforementioned roster of former TNA greats, Eli Drake will most likely spend a year or two in NXT before making it to the main roster. Drake, who still wrestles with TNA, is a former King of the Mountain champion. On Impact, Drake has shown his chops as a sarcastic heel. The audience has embraced him, plus his size (6'2, 232) makes him attractive to more conservative-minded scriptwriters and road agents. Finally, the fact that Drake once had a developmental contract with the WWE might swing corporate opinion in his favor. In the current world of the WWE, anyone over 210 pounds has the potential to be a monster.
Drake might fit that bill, but he would undoubtably spend time in NXT if he signed on this year. Although it would be too predictable, Drake could be paired up against fellow TNA veterans like Roderick Strong or Roode. Whatever the case, Drake's size and ability would make him unique in NXT, which can only help him.
8 Kyle O'Reilly, NXT
As of today, Kyle O'Reilly is the owner of the shortest reign in the history of the ROH World Heavyweight Championship. Just 33 days after winning the belt, O'Reilly dropped the strap inside of the Tokyo Dome to Adam Cole during NJPW's Wrestle Kingdom 11 event. Such a quick turnaround raises a lot of questions. First of all, it's likely that ROH sees Cole as the future of the company. They're not wrong, for Cole is arguably one of the five best wrestlers on the planet right now. As for O'Reilly, his short reign seems to indicate that he may be on the way out.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this. Or, conversely, maybe O'Reilly has decided to take more bookings in Japan as a member of New Japan's Junior Heavyweight Division. But, on the chance that O'Reilly has caught the interest of the WWE, his arrival in NXT would be warmly greeted by the fans. O'Reilly's style, with its basis in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing, would translate well to both NXT and SmackDown.
7 Matthew Riddle, NXT
Given the popularity of wrestlers like Shinsuke Nakamura and Brock Lesnar, Matthew Riddle, a former mixed martial arts fighter and contestant on The Ultimate Fighter, seems tailor-made for the current product. Better yet, Riddle has apparently received a tryout match with the company. Although he hasn't been signed yet, the WWE has undoubtably kept their eyes on Riddle.
The Evolve and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla star has yet to win a major indie title, but Riddle has already generated a whole lot of buzz for guy who only started wrestling in 2014. Like O'Reilly, Riddle's style is mat-based and embraces jiu-jitsu and submission wrestling. Riddle isn't afraid to throw kicks, either. After spending time in NXT, where he could be put under the wing of Triple H (who's publicly sung Riddle's praises), Riddle would be an excellent member of a 205 Live stable featuring Drew Gulak and Kyle O'Reilly.
6 Ethan Carter III, NXT
EC3 is very familiar with WWE's developmental system. Between 2007 and 2008, Ethan Carter wrestled for Ohio Valley Wrestling, then, between 2009 and 2013, Carter competed in both Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT. At that time, Carter was known as Derrick Bateman, a handsome, well-built, but otherwise bland grappler.
Since being released almost four years ago, Carter has remade himself into a main event talent in TNA. The two-time TNA World Heavyweight champion is excellent in the ring and is particularly good at portraying a smarmy heel. Carter's only drawback is his lack of promo skills, which, to be fair, have approved over the last year. That being said, if the WWE re-signs Carter, he'll most likely go back to NXT with the other TNA veterans.
5 Chris Hero, NXT
As with several others on this list, Chris Hero is familiar with NXT. As Kassius Ohno, Hero wrestled for WWE's developmental territory from 2012 until 2013. He received a somewhat decent push as a big bruiser who liked to knock people out. However, the always cosmetically-minded WWE writers and bookers decided to cut Hero loose because of his supposedly lackadaisical attitude regarding physical conditioning. Since returning to the indies, Hero has only continued to cultivate his gut. None of this has hampered Hero's success, and indeed his work in the ring has improved since 2013. The WWE will still make losing weight a condition of his signing, however.
Hero could be well positioned in NXT as either a heel or babyface. As a heel, Hero could return to his old Kassius Ohno ways as a brut who likes throwing painful elbow strikes. As a babyface, NXT writers could emphasize Hero's status as an indie darling. Either way, smart bookers would incorporate Hero's earlier release for cosmetic reasons into a storyline.
4 The Briscoe Brothers, SmackDown Live
If the WWE is serious about reviving their sluggish tag team scene, then signing The Briscoe Brothers would be the best thing for business. Jay and Mark Briscoe have been the best tag team in wrestling for well over a decade now. In Ring of Honor, The Briscoe Brothers hold the record for most Tag Team Championship reigns at eight. The Briscoe Brothers held the ROH World Tag Team Championship for a combined 807 days. Jay Briscoe has also held the ROH World Heavyweight Championship twice, which of course leaves open the possibility for a singles run in the WWE.
The only thing possibly holding The Briscoe Brothers back is their uncouthness. As proud "rednecks," The Briscoe Brothers often cut curse-filled promos and tend who decorate their ring gear with Confederate battle flags. As a publicly traded company, the WWE might be wary of courting this type of controversy. However, a Briscoe Brothers-Wyatt Family feud would be must-watch TV.
3 Ricochet, NXT
One of the most popular stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ricochet is the hottest free agent in pro wrestling right now. At just 28, Ricochet has his best years ahead of him. Since turning pro in 2006, Ricochet has not only held the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship twice, but, as Prince Puma, he was the first ever Lucha Underground Champion.
Ricochet's flashy, aerial style is sure to blow the socks off of the NXT crowd. He's basically the perfect babyface for NXT. Similarly, as the friend and roommate of Apollo Crews, Ricochet might be drafted to the blue brand right away. Similarly, at just a hair under two hundred pounds, Ricochet meets the requirements for 205 Live. In truth, Ricochet is the type of guy who could work well on any WWE program.
2 The Young Bucks, RAW
When it comes to entertainment, it's hard to beat The Young Bucks. The brash team are currently on top of the world as one of the most popular and successful teams in New Japan, ROH, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Their snotty antics have brought them to the attention of the mainstream press, with Sports Illustrated covering the pair of brothers from California. Although it's just as likely that The Young Bucks would immediately join the ranks of NXT upon signing with the WWE, smarter booking would put the well-known team on RAW.
On RAW, numerous storylines could be possible. The Young Bucks could get involved with Owens, who was part of the Mount Rushmore faction with the team and Adam Cole in PWG. Similarly, the WWE could finally pull the trigger on a new Bullet Club team with Gallows and Anderson and Finn Balor. Also, given that The Young Bucks have called out The New Day one several different occasions, a feud between the two teams would be natural. The only thing holding back the WWE from signing Nick and Matt Jackson is probably their reputation for being disrespectful backstage.
1 The Hardy Boyz, SmackDown Live
If you've watched any WWE television lately, you've undoubtably heard the "Delete" chants. Despite what WWE might tell you, the "Broken" Matt Hardy storyline is still the biggest and most unique thing in pro wrestling right now. Although they don't like mentioning the fact that TNA exists, it's obvious that the WWE has been paying attention to Impact for over a year now. Not only has Vince McMahon and company blatantly ripped off The Hardy Boyz and TNA (The New Day brawl at The Wyatt Family's compound), but they've been in talks with the brothers since last summer.
Considering that TNA is hanging on by a thread at this point, it wouldn't be surprising if Matt and Jeff decided to return to the WWE after meeting their commitments with ROH ("Broken" Matt just recently returned to the company at Final Battle). "Broken" Matt and Brother Nero would work best on SmackDown, where they could be pitted against new The Wyatt Family. Matt Hardy already laid the groundwork for this feud back in July by taking to Twitter after the vignette of The New Day at The Wyatt Family compound aired on RAW.