NOTE: Plenty of people not on this list are going to have great years, but they're not being included because it's expected of them. Would you really be surprised to see John Cena, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles and others like that fighting in the same hierarchy level they're currently at? I don't think so. This list is meant to reflect people who will take a step forward in their careers and move to a brand new level, reaching new heights they've yet to achieve, whether some of it is the obvious career trajectory or not.
10. Tino Sabbatelli
As far as wrestlers migrating from the developmental stage to the true NXT roster, I can see Tino Sabbatelli being the one to have the easiest transition. He doesn't pop up all that often now, but when he does, he seems to improve in strides. The more people who go to the main roster, the more likely he'll be called up to take their place on the yellow brand and by the middle of the year, I think he'll have gone from a name not many people are aware of to a staple of NXT on par with what No Way Jose is right now at the beginning of 2017.
9. Gran Metalik
WWE is holding him back for some reason or another, but once he starts wrestling on 205 Live, he'll definitely be someone to pay attention to. He didn't make it so far into the Cruiserweight Classic for nothing, and if he were a lower priority performer to the company, he'd be in the spot someone like Drew Gulak or the Bollywood Boyz are right now. Instead, he's being kept in the wings until they need a shot of adrenaline and when that happens, he could end up going straight into title contention. I would be very surprised if Gran Metalik doesn't win the Cruiserweight Championship in 2017.
8. Ember Moon
Much of this list has to do with going from a midcarder to a main eventer, winning your first title, or similar accomplishments, and Ember Moon is on my radar to do just that. I fully expect her to be the one to dethrone Asuka even though she's still so new to the NXT roster and has yet to have a single true "feud" instead of a couple random matches. She won't be going to Raw or SmackDown, but in 2017, she'll go from a newbie to the top of the division in NXT.
7. Sami Zayn
When reading his name on this list, you might think I'm going to say when I gaze into my crystal ball, I can see a world title reign for Sami Zayn in 2017, but don't get ahead of the game, here, because I don't think that's going to happen. I do, however, think he'll be winning either the Intercontinental or United States Championship—perhaps even both, depending on what happens with the draft. Some might argue that his name being on this list is a bit of a cop out since he's already at that level, but in my mind, Zayn is still in a testing ground period. Until he obtains a midcard title, he's working not on foundation of his position on the roster, but potential. Everybody knows he's got the popularity and the skills to go far, but that's always talked about in hypothetical scenarios and "what if" fantasy booking. 2017 should be the year he starts checking things off the list and taking some real steps forward.
6. Bobby Roode
Your next NXT champion. He's going to have a glorious year. Enough said.
5. The Revival
Not only do I expect The Revival to get called up to the main roster (SmackDown if I had to guess), I also think they're a shoe-in for winning a tag team championship somewhere on the calendar year. Triple H seems to love these guys and they just continue to improve, so why should we think they'll do anything other than keep up that career trajectory? Then again, sometimes when people come from NXT to the main roster, they stop accomplishing a damn thing. If Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson don't fall victim to the same problems Apollo Crews, Tyler Breeze, The Ascension, Neville and Baron Corbin ran into, they'll do great in 2017.
4. Shinsuke Nakamura
Somewhere down the line in 2017, Shinsuke Nakamura should be bound for the main roster, but I don't have him ranked higher than the others on this list because I expect them to be able to accomplish more in the overall scope of the year. Nakamura is a name I can see coming to Raw or SmackDown after WrestleMania and people being disappointed that he's not thrust straight into the main event, but rather, in a midcard title feud. I'd look to 2018 to be the better year for him as far as getting a main event spot.
3. Finn Balor
Assuming he returns in good enough shape and doesn't go back down with another injury, Finn Balor should be able to pick up where he left off and actually finish the rest of the equation for success he started working on in 2016. This should go without being said, so it's a bit of a cop out just like the Sami Zayn thing, but it's still not a guarantee. For all we know, Balor could return and within two months, re-injure his arm and go back on the shelf. I don't think that will happen, though. I'm optimistic that we'll see a TRUE world title reign for Finn Balor and a handful of great feuds along the way. By the end of 2017, he'll be as legitimate of a main event star as anybody else on that upper echelon like Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt and more.
2. Braun Strowman
This could happen even sooner than I would have expected, as I thought he would start off 2017 well, but he might not pick up full steam until after WrestleMania, which would then lead him to a midcard title reign. At the pace he's going, Strowman could head into WrestleMania as United States champion or more. He continues to improve and he is getting over very well, so I think we could have the next Big Show in the making where WWE might feel confident enough to give him not just a midcard title and a decent WrestleMania match, but maybe even a world title by sometime like SummerSlam or Survivor Series.
Could I have moved up Braun Strowman or Finn Balor from earlier in the list for a more sure-bet? Of course, but I wanted to gamble a bit here. First things first, Samoa Joe will make the jump from NXT to the main roster. That right there is huge, but on top of that, I don't think we'll see any hesitation in making him a major player. Whether he goes straight into being a midcard champion or he starts feuding with upper midcarders and working his way into the main event scene, Samoa Joe is someone I can see having a particularly stellar year. I would not be shocked to see him win SmackDown's WWE Championship and have some amazing feuds with people like Dean Ambrose, John Cena, Roman Reigns and possibly even The Undertaker and AJ Styles.
Check out our discussion on this subject from the latest episode of the Smack Talk podcast below!