As we head into the WWE Draft this Tuesday it’s interesting to see where all the draft experts think everybody is going. The foremost experts, and the only ones I (Steve Cook) read because there’s no need for the others, being the ESPN crew & our own Jeremy Lambert. As people that follow my fantasy football work know, I fancy myself a bit of an expert when it comes to sleepers. I have a knack for finding people low on the totem pole that end up outperforming expectations & rewarding people smart enough to draft them. This also applies to wrestling, as decades of following, studying & reporting on the sport gives me a certain level of knowledge outside the mainstream. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I know things that your average bear or your expert bear doesn’t.
Today I’m going to take a look at some of the WWE Superstars that, to this point, have been overlooked by the experts. These wrestlers won’t be going at the top of the draft, but the GM that drafts them late will have a leg up on their opposition. Join me for WWE Draft: The Sleepers.
Luke Harper: Harper has three things complicating his draft stock: his age (36), a knee injury that should keep him out a couple of months, and being typecast by scouts as a system guy. I don’t think age is much of a factor in wrestling. As the Living Legend Larry Zbyszko said, pro wrestling is the game of human chess. What an older wrestler might lose in the physical aspect of the game, they more than make up for in the mental aspect by becoming wiser & more experienced. Hulk Hogan & Ric Flair were in their physical primes in 1985, but they were still winning world titles in 1995 and beyond because of their minds. The knee might prove to be a lingering problem, but Harper will adjust his game around it.
As for the “system guy” argument, Harper found his most individual success in WWE so far when he was outside the Wyatt Family. He won the Intercontinental Title & seemed on the verge of bigger things before his loyalty to Bray Wyatt won out. He’s still a 6’5, 275 pound monster that looks like the scariest guy wandering the swamps. If I was one of the GMs I’d draft Harper without the rest of the Wyatt Family and let him sink or swim on his own merits. My guess is he’ll swim, and you’ll get a lot of value out of what will surely be a late-round pick.
Nikki Bella: Another proven performer currently sidelined by injury, Nikki is one of the hardest workers in WWE and I’d be shocked if she didn’t come back better than ever. Every revolution needs something to fight against, and it wasn’t a coincidence that the Divas Revolution lost a lot of its steam and its continuity when Nikki went down. You can either use her as the classic heel champion or the classic never-say-die babyface. Nikki has the flexibility that other Superstars can only dream of. I think she’ll go higher than the online experts expect and she’ll be the focal point of women’s wrestling action on whatever show she’s on. Neck injuries tend to linger, and there could be a good amount of downside with this pick, but a wise GM will consider the upside more.
Tyler Breeze: Highly touted coming out of NXT, Breeze had a disastrous rookie season that saw his WWE Draft stock plummet to the point where there’s virtually no chance he’ll actually be drafted during the SmackDown Live portion of the draft. The GM who picks him in the later rounds should be pleased though, as they’ll get a student of the game that scored off the Wrestlekliq charts. Breeze can easily drop six pounds to get to 205 & get in a division that’s more in tune with his talents. He’s still 28 and has plenty of time, but Breeze is going to be heading to his new home with an agenda to take his game to the next level. And that’s exactly what every GM should want.
Becky Lynch: Considering Lynch’s popularity with fans it’s astonishing that scouts & pundits are overlooking her like they are. There’s a good chance she’s been getting bad advice from her agents, as Lynch has a dangerous tendency to trust the wrong people. Becky doesn’t have the best win-loss record among her lady compatriots & didn’t have the best performance at the combine, but has heart & other intangibles that can’t be measured at combines. The draft process may have hurt Becky’s stock, but wherever she ends up will get a tenacious competitor looking to prove the doubters wrong.
Sheamus: Sheamus’s game doesn’t get a lot of love from draft experts or prognosticators, but people inside wrestling know that he’s among the best. At 6’4 & 267, Sheamus has all the physical tools. He’s also got it upstairs and has used his brains & brawns to win multiple world championships. He’s still got a couple years left to make some noise & will clog plenty of shit wherever he ends up.
Paige: Much like Becky, Paige had a horrendous pre-draft process. Her combine performance was average, and her interviews…well, the less said the better. She also carries a reputation of being a partier & the phrase “locker room cancer” has come from more than one scout I’ve talked to. I don’t know about that, but I do know that Paige is just 23 years old, has a lifetime of wrestling experience already & even a lesser version of her will be better than most people you can get at the spot she’ll be available at. If Paige can get out of her own head, there’s no stopping her. If she doesn’t, hey, a late-round pick was worth the shot.
Zack Ryder: Nobody puts more time into their craft than Ryder does. It’s tough to believe that he’s only 31 years old considering how long he’s been under the bright lights of WWE. He’s had a lot of ups & downs but has learned from each one and comes back stronger each & every time. He’s had a bit of a resurgence in 2016 & the GM that drafts him will get a young veteran presence that will be a good influence on the kids in the locker room adjusting to the WWE lifestyle.
D-Von Dudley: Everybody says that Bubba Ray is the Dudley to pick if you need a Dudley as a singles star. They may be right, Bubba had a great combine in all power categories & has gotten better with age. But if we learned one thing about D-Von during the original WWE Draft & his ensuing singles run, it’s that he has an eye for talent. The Reverend D-Von character was quite forgettable, but it did result in the introduction of a young man from Ohio Valley Wrestling that would become one of WWE’s biggest stars of the 2000s. D-Von already brought us the Animal Batista, I’d like to be the GM that has that eye for talent at my disposal. His wrestling is secondary.
Baron Corbin: Corbin’s combine numbers weren’t what scouts were hoping for considering his size and his interviews with GMs reportedly went dreadfully. That being said, we’re talking about a long-haired fella that’s 6’8 & 275 lbs. He’s going to get plenty of chances to succeed in the WWE system no matter which brand he ends up representing. During his football career he was known for being mean, nasty & violent, and that’s exactly what the GM who drafts Corbin is going to get.
Eva Marie: When I look in her eyes, I see greatness. I see a young woman who’s — even now, she’s matured more, and she wants to be great. She has that leadership, she has that leader inside her and it’s coming out even more. She just has a good spirit. She has a good soul, a good spirit. And when you combine that with talent, and the mindset that she has, greatness will come out.
Sure, it’s important to keep an eye on who goes first & which brand gets the biggest stars. But its the GM that drafts smarter in the later rounds & gets themselves some good sleepers that will win out when it’s all said and done & Vince McMahon is handing out the Blassie Trophy to the winning team at WrestleMania.