Four picks to be SmackDown's franchise player

Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning and Alexander Ovechkin. Aside from being exceptional athletes and among the very best in their respective fields of battle, all four are true cornerstones: uber-talented stars that teams can build their entire franchises around. In the world of competitive play, they're known as "franchise players."

In professional sports, not every team has one of these extraordinary individuals. In fact, some don't even have one legitimately elite star. But in the squared circle, there's no shortage of in-ring warriors who could be considered standard-bearers for the Raw and SmackDown brands, and to a larger extent, WWE as a whole.

WWE.com takes an up-close look at Friday night's best, tackling the undeniably tough challenge of narrowing it down to four Superstars that stand as the face of SmackDown. These competitors are the linchpins of the notorious blue brand, persistently commanding the attention of the WWE Universe while crafting their own unique identity.

Click through to see our four picks, and then cast your vote in WWE.com's poll to decide who ultimately deserves to be called the franchise player for SmackDown.

Randy Orton

Born and bred with WWE rushing through his veins, Randy Orton has walked with the best and learned from their incredible example. The third-generation warrior follows in the footsteps of his elite family, including his father, WWE Hall of Famer “Cowboy” Bob Orton. He then grew as a member of one of the top factions in WWE history – Evolution – standing in the mighty shadow of Triple H and WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair. After a lifetime of surrounding himself with greatness, there is no one better on the SmackDown roster to represent the entire show.  

Orton also deserves to be Friday night’s franchise player because he is one of the top titleholders of all active WWE Superstars. He is a nine-time World Champion – winning his first World Heavyweight Title at age 24 – as well as an Intercontinental Champion and the 2009 Royal Rumble winner.

Perhaps the most important reason that WWE’s Apex Predator is the face of SmackDown has to do with his ability to be an extremely adaptable entertainer. He is a formidable opponent to any type of foe: Superstar or Legend, large or small, man or monster. He can compete in any type of match or any part of the arena, whether it’s a technical encounter or an all-out brawl, from Hell in a Cell, to Falls Count Anywhere, to the Fatal 4-Way World Title Match at WWE Over the Limit on May 20. Overall, he is a Superstar that shows no fear and is able to rise above in any situation, striking out of nowhere to emerge victorious.

In short, Randy Orton is SmackDown's clear franchise player.

Daniel Bryan

Is Daniel Bryan SmackDown’s franchise player? In a word: YES!

It’s an image that has become as much a part of the Friday night show as any other in the history of WWE: Bryan, hands raised over his head, index fingers pointed skyward as he shouts, “YES! YES! YES!” Love it or hate it, the “Yes!” phenomenon that has swept through the WWE Universe and into mainstream pop culture first caught fire on SmackDown, and remains one of the reasons that fans tune in every Friday night.

While that alone could cement Bryan as SmackDown’s franchise competitor, the submission specialist has also proven himself time and again inside the SmackDown ring. Since being drafted to the blue brand in 2011, Bryan has taken his career to new heights, claiming the World Heavyweight Championship in December, defending his title three times in January and again at WWE Elimination Chamber.

The entirety of Bryan’s reign as champion took place during his time as a SmackDown staple, and the ring veteran shows no signs of stopping as he is now just one week away from challenging CM Punk for the WWE Championship.

A highly touted Championship reign, high-profile rivalries, and now a chance to obtain the glorious WWE Title — there’s no question that Daniel Bryan is SmackDown’s franchise player.

Sheamus

He may be known as The Great White, but Sheamus is SmackDown blue, through and through.

Drafted to the brand in 2011, The Celtic Warrior has become nothing short of a force of nature on Friday nights. Already a two time World Champion upon his arrival – the first Irish-born WWE Champion in history – The Celtic Warrior instantly began to rack up an impressive winning streaks through the tail end of 2011, barreling into the new year as WWE’s hottest Superstar.

The Great White notched a monumental victory in the 30-man over-the-top-rope Royal Rumble Match this past January, guaranteeing a title opportunity at WrestleMania XXVIII. Sheamus then set his sights on Daniel Bryan’s World Heavyweight Championship and the two were poised to clash in a highly anticipated bout in Miami.

It was obvious that Sheamus was chomping at the bit to get his hands on Bryan, who tormented the challenger for weeks on SmackDown, but no one could have predicted just how dominant The Celtic Warrior would be on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

In one of the most shocking and decisive victories in WrestleMania history, Sheamus leveled Bryan with a Brogue Kick, pinning the submission specialist in 18 seconds to claim the World Heavyweight Championship — a title he’s since successfully defended at Extreme Rules in a grueling 2-out-of-3 Falls Match.

With all of this glory achieved to date, Sheamus is arguably the Superstar of 2012, leaving little doubt that The Celtic Warrior is SmackDown’s current franchise player.

Cody Rhodes

“[Cody Rhodes] came into this industry as the most naturally talented athlete to step into a WWE ring since Shawn Michaels.” – WWE Hall of Famer “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes

Second-generation Superstar Cody Rhodes grew up with WWE in his blood. The son of a beloved all-time great, he made his first appearance in WWE mere days after his 22nd birthday, embarking on a career that would see him rise through the ranks to become one of SmackDown’s most valuable Superstars. Rhodes’ new T-shirt – available at WWE Shop – even boasts with the phrase “Rhodes to the Future” that one day he will be the face of WWE. Well, WWE.com is here to argue that future has already come.

However, Rhodes didn’t make it to the pinnacle of sports-entertainment by birthright, but rather through blood, sweat, tears and an undeniable bundle of raw talent. Since being drafted to SmackDown in the 2010 WWE Supplemental Draft, Rhodes has clashed with all the biggest names in WWE, battled his former Legacy teammates, gone from “Dashing” to disfigured and not only revived the classic Intercontinental Title, but held that championship gold in his first reign for 236 days, the longest reign since 2004.

The three-time World Tag Team Champion, two-time Intercontinental Champion and WWE Tag Team Champion is much more than a condensed resume or title history. With the full package of charisma, confidence, humor and top notch in-ring work, Rhodes has a varied skill-set that few Superstars can match.

The strongest argument in Rhodes’ favor as SmackDown's franchise player is that time is on his side. At the age of just 26, he has not even entered the height of his athletic prime. That means that he is one of the Superstars that SmackDown can build around both short and long-term. So, not only is Rhodes "the man." He also posesses the potential to hold the blue banner high for years to come.

“Rhodes to the Future” – the future is here!

Now that you've seen our selections, it's time for you to decide who really deserves to be called Raw's franchise player. Cast your vote in this WWE.com poll to make your voice be heard. Don't agree with our picks? Head over to Facebook to tell us who you believe should've made the cut instead.

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