Braun Strowman holds top spot in ESPN WWE Power Rankings; Miz, Balor on the rise

Whether it's tossing around gear cases like they're nothing or his previously unknown skills with a grappling hook, Braun Strowman, right, continues to impress at every turn. Courtesy of WWE

We're just a couple of weeks away from the Royal Rumble. And as he gears up for his triple threat Universal championship match in Philadelphia, Braun Strowman has carried over his momentum from 2017 and kicks off 2018 with a firm grasp on the No. 1 spot in the ESPN WWE Power Rankings.

While there are a lot of familiar faces in the latest edition of these rankings, two names in particular stand out for their recent surges: The Miz, who returned on Monday in a big way; and Finn Balor, who seemingly has found new live in reuniting with a couple of his good brothers.

As the Road to WrestleMania lingers on the horizon, here's how the rest of the top 10 shakes out.

Rankings are based upon the perceived value of a superstar to the on-screen product of WWE, which is determined by the voting of a panel of WWE on ESPN contributors. Number in parentheses ( ) indicates first-place votes.

Every time it seems like Strowman's powerhouse persona has hit its ceiling, he finds a new way to get it over. On Monday, he went so far as to pull a grappling hook out of a road case, throw it around the top of a scaffolding and pull the steel structures down on top of Brock Lesnar and Kane. It's the type of move designed to make a potential WWE Universal title triumph over Lesnar at the Royal Rumble believable, and it worked like a champ (pun intended). (KC Joyner)

While he has dropped some matches on SmackDown Live as of late, Styles is at the top of his game from an in-ring perspective. He is arguably the best worker in the WWE, and he has the fan base behind him. Despite the odd WWE championship handicap match format at the Royal Rumble, look for Styles to continue to prove why he should already be considered an all-time great. (Sean Coyle)

We're coming to a point in the year at which Reigns is nearing a crossroads. He could drop the Intercontinental championship, either back to The Miz or to someone else, and push forward toward a WrestleMania main event against Brock Lesnar that has seemed inevitable for some time. Or he could continue along his current, unexpected path and see where it takes him. In recent months, Reigns has had great matches, including his title defense against Samoa Joe and the six-man main event against the Balor Club; but he and Rollins have been doing stellar work as the embodiment of the embarrassed older brothers of Jason Jordan. As we saw on Monday in that trio's loss, there's a long road of tumultuousness ahead. (Tim Fiorvanti)

As the premier heels on SmackDown Live, the pairing of Owens and Zayn is doing exactly what it should be doing -- antagonizing the baby faces -- and no duo does it better. The chemistry is obvious, drawing strength from their long-standing relationship, and they find themselves in a WWE championship match at the Royal Rumble. A co-champion scenario seems like a long shot, but Owens and Zayn are on fire, regardless. (Coyle)

On the night Miz returned, he immediately picked up where he left off six weeks prior by making an impact in the biggest ongoing storyline on Raw: the continuing adventures of Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan. Miz shines at every opportunity, and it's exciting to see what direction he'll go in in 2018. (Andrew Feldman)

Lesnar remains the undisputed centerpiece of the WWE promotional machine. The triple-threat match against Braun Strowman and Kane might not win any match of the year awards, and yet this clash between a trio of behemoths for the WWE Universal championship should make for an entertaining Royal Rumble world title match. (Joyner)

When fans vocally clamor for something to happen in WWE storylines, it's not always a great idea for the creative forces behind WWE to listen. Who knows what a lengthy Zack Ryder mid-card title run would've looked like a few years ago, and Daniel Bryan's WrestleMania XXX triumph wouldn't have seemed as special had the WWE pulled the trigger sooner. But when it comes to the long-requested reunion between Finn Balor, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, the results have been immediate. In two weeks, each of the three men has seemingly flipped a switch and begun to ooze charisma and energy in the ring. After a wayward 2017, this trio -- and Balor in particular -- could do big things. (Fiorvanti)

Yeah, we're shaking our heads at this too, but here's the thing: Jordan adapted well to the criticism he likely never saw coming. He is finally steering into the hate as he channels the animosity he has built up from being the illegitimate son of Kurt Angle and turned it into an opportunity to become a cocky, overconfident, know-it-all Shield wannabe. It has been a great effort on his part in recent weeks, and it has done some good for himself, Reigns and Rollins in the process. Oh, and he's still really, really good in the ring. (Matt Wilansky)

SmackDown has suddenly become rife with star-studded tag teams, and yet The Usos remain the best duo in the land. They took care of the New Day a couple of times in high-quality matches last year. Now it looks as if they'll have to fend off Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin at least once more in what appears to be another terrific matchup at the Royal Rumble. But wouldn't it be something if they could hold on to the gold and line up opposite the The Bludgeon Brothers? (Wilansky)

A title shot is coming at some point soon for Asuka, thanks to her defeat of Alexa Bliss. So the only remaining question is whether she'll earn it with another dramatic statement by winning the first ever women's Royal Rumble or if it will come in some other form or fashion on the road to WrestleMania. (Feldman)

Dropped from rankings: Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss

Honorable mention: Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Rusev & Aiden English, Flair, Elias, Bliss, Becky Lynch, Drew Gulak, Kane