2023 Draft Day Manifesto: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Drafters

In the spring of 1984, I wandered into a conference room at Anco Insurance in Bryan, Texas (next door city to my hometown of College Station) with a sheaf of papers and sat down. There were 10 other people there. Someone to keep track of everything – and every player – the 10 of us drafted.

If was my first ever fantasy draft, though to be specific, it was an auction and it was called Rotisserie League Baseball back then, but still, the process was the same. The names of professional athletes were spoken and ultimately distributed among all of our fake teams.

Since that first draft almost 40 years ago I have participated in literally thousands of drafts for every possible fantasy sport you can imagine. Seriously. I once even played in a fantasy sumo wrestling league. Many of the drafts were great, some of them most decidedly were not, but I learned something from every single one of them.

And perhaps the most important thing I learned is what my very first commissioner, my dear friend Don Smith, said to me on that very first day. “Welcome to draft day. It’s only the best day of the year.”

I can assure you that is a 100% true statement. I can also assure you that it’s also the most important. A strong draft is absolutely critical to having a successful season. Over those thousands and thousands of drafts, I have taken notes, I have gone back and studied – what went wrong, what went right, what habits do I need to continue to focus on and hone and what do I need to stay away from?

And what out there can help me?

Back when I first started drafting there was no internet, no mobile phones, no apps or websites, really not even any magazines that could help. You were basically on your own. Since then there have been a ton of advancements in technology that help fantasy managers, including ones that I own a piece of, he said, leading to a plug.

The Rotoworld Draft Guide, of course, is terrific. It’s why I’m thrilled to have it be a part of my bundle – where you get many great sites for over 30% less than what it would cost to buy them separately. Draft software, tools, analysis, rankings, projections, customized ranks and values for whatever your specific leagues settings are so so much more. It also has tools for those that play Best Ball, Dynasty, DFS lineup generators and much much more… including a subscription to Peacock. Yes. You get a six month subscription to Peacock which will allow you to watch the exclusive NFL game, the exclusive NFL playoff game and of course, the exclusive Fantasy Football Pregame with Matthew Berry.

It really is a great value and very helpful on draft day and throughout the season.

It’s fantasy football season! Dominate your draft with the 2023 Rotoworld Football Draft Guide. Get regularly updated rankings, profiles, mock drafts and more. Click here and use promo code Berry20 to save 20% at checkout.

I also have a bunch of free stuff for you, including my daily free Fantasy Life newsletter (available at ) and the best alerts in the business on the Fantasy Life App (

Check it all out – even if you decide it’s not for you – knowing what is out there and what your opponents might be using is important as well.

Last year was a crazy off-season for me, what with leaving my former place and returning back home here to Rotoworld, launching Fantasy Football Happy Hour (live every weekday at Noon ET on Peacock and SiriusXM Channel 85 and then afterwards on demand on Peacock, wherever you get podcasts, on the NFL on NBC YouTube channel and of course right here on he said with one last plug and well, this article took a hiatus.

But often imitated, never duplicated, I am back with the 2023 Draft Day Manifesto: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Drafters. I’ve written a version of this column for over 20 years, so some of this will be familiar, but it has been updated specifically for 2023 and the trends and players for this year’s drafts.

All research is important (be sure to check out my LoveHate and 100 Facts column from this year) and there’s a zillion things you can and should do before your draft to put yourself in the best position for success. But what I will tell you is, after doing thousands of drafts over almost four decades and studying thousands more, these are the most important things to know.

These are the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Drafters:

Habit 1: They spend a ton of time of preparing

Just because it seems obvious doesn't mean it's not true. Draft day mirrors many aspects of life, but perhaps none more than this: What you put into it is what you get out of it. So you need to prep, but before you prep, you need to know exactly what you are prepping for.

And that starts with studying the rules and, more importantly, figuring out the best ways to exploit said rules. What's the scoring? Because that obviously will impact the type of players you target. Is it half-point PPR or full PPR? Because last season in full PPR, 12 of the top 15 RBs in points per game saw at least 33% of their fantasy points come from receiving. Is there premium scoring for tight ends? Points for first downs? For long punts? Don't laugh. I played in a punter league once. And crushed it like a grape, thank you very much.

What's your roster size? How do you acquire free-agent players in your league? If it's a free-agent budget, you can be a bit riskier on draft day because you will have a shot at every player if you need to replace someone. But if it's a waiver system, it will be tougher to get the hot free agents, especially if the rules allow someone to sit on the top pick for multiple weeks. So you'll need to focus a little more on depth during the draft. Does your league have an IR spot? If so, how many? Being able to use IR spots allows you to take more chances on talented but injury-prone players. How about a spot for suspended players? If you play in a league with an NA spot, drafting players like Alvin Kamara or Jameson Williams becomes much easier. Just think about how big of an advantage it was if you were able to stash DeAndre Hopkins last season without using a bench spot.

All of these questions lead to roster construction, which will be a key part of your draft-day success. Reconciling how players are acquired during the season with roster size and any roster restrictions you may have (a limit on number of RBs, for example) will help you as you start to evaluate players. Can you fairly easily find solid production at various positions during the year via the waiver wire? If so, you can roster more "fliers." Conversely, in deeper leagues where the free-agent pool is scarce, you'll need some solid middle-of-the-road types to plug in during bye weeks and when injuries hit.

When do your playoffs start? How many teams make it? How are Week 14 byes going to affect your fantasy playoffs? With the NFL having moved to an 18-week season, some of these questions are more important than ever before.

Effective drafters also account for what platform they are playing on, because wherever you play, the draft is highly influenced by the default rankings in the draft room. People panic during a draft and often take the highest-ranked player available. Having a set of rankings you trust and believe in and comparing them to the default ranks of whatever site you play on will help you identify which players are going too early, which players are going too low, what market inefficiencies there are and how you can exploit them. For example, look at these current ADP differences between ESPN and Yahoo leagues (note: this ADP may already look different by the time you’re reading this, but this is how it was at the time of my writing).

ESPN ADP vs. Yahoo ADP Examples

Kirk Cousins: QB10 vs. QB14
Joe Mixon: RB9 vs. RB15
Alvin Kamara: RB17 vs. RB27
Rachaad White: RB19 vs. RB30
JK Dobbins: RB30 vs. RB18
Christian Watson: WR22 vs. WR28
Tyler Lockett: WR29 vs. WR21
Darren Waller: TE4 vs. TE7

Now, yes part of this is influenced by the fact that ESPN default scoring is full-point PPR whereas Yahoo is half-point, but even that doesn’t explain some of these massive ADP gaps. Use this information to your advantage and ensure you’re not reaching for players you don’t need to be. And one more related tip. If it's a league where you know the other managers, you can add in notations about the tendencies of other drafters. (This one always reaches for young, buzzy players, this other one stockpiles quarterbacks, etc.)

Finally, mock draft as much as possible, especially once you know what spot you are picking from. What happens if you go with Travis Kelce in the first round? What about a "Zero RB" or “Hero RB” approach? What if you go RB heavy and start your draft with 2-3 running backs? What if you take Patrick Mahomes early? The more options you play with to see how your team turns out, the more prepared you will be when the real draft happens, and you'll be much more comfortable adjusting on the fly.

Habit 2: They identify the relative depth at every position

It isn't enough to just have an opinion on every potential player. You need to understand every player's value relative to every other player and the depth of that position as it relates to your roster needs. QB is deep, you say? Not if you play in a 14-team Superflex league. Then they start going quickly.

When you draft, you're not just collecting as many good players as possible. You're constructing a roster with finite resources. You have only so many spots, and you need to also understand how easy or hard it will be to replace players during the season.

Here's a quick overview of how I see the positions this year:


Last season we really saw the top tier of QBs separate from the pack as Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes all averaged at least 24.5 PPG. For context, Joe Burrow (21.9 PPG) was the only other QB last season to average over 20.0 PPG. And we’re certainly seeing that reflected in ADP with Hurts, Allen, and Mahomes all routinely going in the 2nd and 3rd round of drafts. I don’t have a problem with taking any of them at that ADP, but personally I prefer to target the QB 4-8 range this season, which usually comes off the board in rounds 4-7. As I wrote in my Love/Hate column, Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert are two QBs in particular I’m very high on and can see elevating into that top tier this season. Beyond that, there’s obviously still a ton of depth at the position. Daniel Jones, Geno Smith, Jared Goff and Anthony Richardson are going outside the top 10 rounds. You can easily win a league with any of those options as your QB1, but you need to make sure you’re really strong at RB and WR if you wait that long on QB because you are definitely giving up some ceiling at that position. And continuing a trend from the past few seasons, rushing continues to be highly correlated with fantasy success at the QB position. In 2022, four of top six QBs in PPG had at least 700 rushing yards while eight of top-10 added at least 350 yards on the ground.

Running back
The continued rise of elite WRs paired with contract drama for Jonathan Taylor and Josh Jacobs among other factors has led to RBs falling further down draft boards then we’ve seen in years past. In fact, on many sites Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler are the only RBs currently with an ADP inside the top-10 picks. And I don’t think that’s wrong. At various points this preseason, I’ve had as few as three RBs in the top-12 of my overall rankings. That said, I still think there’s value to getting one high-end RB in the early rounds. Personally, I’ve often found myself going towards a “Hero” or “Anchor” RB strategy where I take Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard or Nick Chubb as my first RB in the second round and then wait until the 20-30 range at the position to find my RB2. I find that area of the draft has a good combination of underrated veterans like James Conner or David Montgomery as well as younger more exciting options like James Cook and Rachaad White. At the back end of rankings there’s no shortage of exciting rookies such as Zach Charbonnet, Devon Achane and Tank Bigsby but if you’re thin at the position don’t go overboard on rookies and players with very low floors early in the season. Instead, make sure to mix in some options with more stand-alone value such as Jaylen Warren and Kenneth Gainwell. And finally, as an overall approach to the position, you want to target volume and high-value touches (receptions + red zone opportunities). Last season, 14 of the top-15 RBs in total touches finished as top-20 RBs in PPG and 16 of the top-20 had at least 250 touches. As for the value of receiving, 11 of the top-15 RBs caught at least 45 passes.

Wide receiver
The early rounds of fantasy drafts have never been more WR-heavy than what we’re currently seeing. There’s 10 different WRs I’ve seen go in the first round of drafts and there’s a convincing case to be made for every one of those picks. Remember, high-end WRs tend to be more reliable because their production is more talent based than RBs and they also generally have less injury risk. For example, I’m very confident that Jaylen Waddle, Tee Higgins and Chris Olave are extremely talented players who will command a high volume of targets whereas Najee Harris – who sometimes goes in the same range of drafts – I’m not convinced is even the best RB on his own team. So looking at the position this year, I’d love to come away with two of my top-14 ranked WRs and getting at least one of the top-10 is basically a must. Beyond that I’m continuing to draft a lot of WRs in the middle rounds as I think there’s a big fall-off once you get outside the top-45 or so. And as always, I’ll be taking a fair share of rookies late. You may have to be patient early in the season, but as we’ve seen recently, these are the guys who can really take off in the second half and swing your fantasy playoffs.

Tight end
Did you know that last season Travis Kelce scored 100 more fantasy points than the TE2? I’m not expecting that gap to be quite as big this season but it’s fairly obvious why Kelce is in his own tier as a first rounder. I have no issue with his ADP, although I do think his age is a non-zero risk factor when you consider the opportunity cost of drafting him in the middle of the first round and the other players you’re passing up there. Mark Andrews and T.J. Hockenson make up a small second tier for me and I like targeting both players in that 3-4 round range if I feel good about the rest of my roster. The TE4-7 range in rounds 5-7 is where many teams will get their TE1 and while George Kittle, Kyle Pitts and Dallas Goedert are all great players, Darren Waller in the only guy in that tier that I’m aggressively targeting, especially if I can get any type of injury discount. Once you get outside the top eight or so at the position, I’m far more likely to wait until the end of the draft and take a couple late-round fliers than settle for a Dalton Schultz or Cole Kmet type. Looking over the past few seasons, late round TE breakouts often come from players with strong athletic profiles and who are tied to good QBs/offenses. Options that fit that mold for me this season include Gerald Everett, Dalton Kincaid, Juwan Johnson, Sam LaPorta, Irv Smith Jr. and Luke Musgrave. I’m also very in on Hunter Henry having a bounce back season.

Habit 3: They abide by the one big secret of fantasy football

At a fundamental level, fantasy football is entirely about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis. That's it. That simple. From the time you read this article until the end of your season, every single thing you do need leads back to that very simple, but rarely followed approach.

Every draft pick, waiver move, potential trade, start/sit decision and so on. Everything. I can't predict the future. Neither can you. Neither can anyone else. So all you can do is minimize risk, give yourself the best odds to succeed every week, make the best call you can in the moment and let the chips fall where they may.

Travis Kelce has finished as a top two tight end in PPG in seven straight seasons. He’s had at least 80 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards in every one of those seasons. What’s most likely to happen?

DK Metcalf led all players with 23 end zone targets last season. He’s ranked top-3 in end zone targets every season of his career. What’s most likely to happen?

Kirk Cousins has finished as either the QB11 or QB12 in PPG in each of the past three seasons. What’s most likely to happen?

Dionte Johnson saw 147 targets and scored 0 touchdowns last season. That set an NFL record for most targets without a TD in a single season. Johnson also ranked top six in end zone targets in 2022 and scored 15 touchdowns over his prior two seasons. What’s most likely to happen?

Jamaal Williams saw 38 goal-to-go rushes last season. That was 16 more than any other RB. Only two RBs have seen more goal-to-go rushes in a single season over the past decade. What’s most likely to happen?

Now, most likely to happen doesn't mean it will happen. It just means it's much more likely to happen than not. And that's all we can ask for. If you consistently play the odds, you'll win a lot more than you won't. And when you are evaluating players before and during the draft, when you are building your team, that's what you need to do. Just remember once again: At a fundamental level, fantasy football is entirely about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis. So always ask yourself ... what's most likely to happen?

Habit 4: They use rankings flexibly and in context

Whether they are your own, someone else's, an average of multiple people or even just the default ones in the draft room, when you draft you are going to have a set of rankings. They are certainly helpful, but they should be used only as a guideline, and more so in the early parts of the draft. Once you get your first five players, it really becomes about roster construction based on what positions you need to fill, how much risk you've already taken and how the draft is playing out, taking into account all the factors we've already discussed.

I say this speaking as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on his rankings, but no list is going to nail end-of-season value, especially if you consider weekly variance.

Take Tampa Bay WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin last season. Evans finished as the WR17, Godwin as the WR18, separated by just 2.6 total fantasy points. So it doesn't matter which one you got, right? Well, let's take a closer look at how their seasons broke down:

Godwin: 4 games with 18+ points (26%), 10 games with 12+ points (66%), 2 games below 10 points (13%)

Evans: 5 games with 18+ points (33%), 7 games with 12+ points (46%), 7 games below 10 points (46%)

Godwin scored at least 10 fantasy points in 87% of his games last season whereas Evans reached that number in only 56% of his games. So how did they end up finishing back-to-back in total points you say? Well, it’s because Evans scored a combined 79 points in Weeks 4 and 17 of last season. Those two games accounted for 35% of his total fantasy points. Here’s another way to put it. Heading into Week 17 last season, Evans was WR30 in PPG. After that game, in which he put up 207 yards and 3 TDs, Evans jumped all the way up to WR14 in PPG.

The Evans/Godwin example is also a good exercise for how to use rankings within the context of the roster you’re building. Both receivers are understandably going later in drafts than they did last season, but on both ESPN and Yahoo their ADPs are still very close to one another. So unless you have a hard stance on which player will be better, it comes down to roster fit. If you’ve started RB heavy or detoured to take a QB or TE early and thus are looking to fill your WR2 or WR3 spot, Godwin’s higher floor should be more appealing. Conversely, if you’re already strong at the position, Evans’ inconsistency is much easier to tolerate when’s he’s your WR4 and not an every-week starter.

Habit 5: They focus on winning weeks

It's very simple, but so many people forget that fantasy football is a weekly game. Let’s go back to the Mike Evans example one more time. You could say his 48-point game in Week 17 single-handedly won you a fantasy championship.

That's IF you started him. Big if. Consider that over the eight weeks prior to that 48-point game vs. Carolina in Week 17, Evans was WR55. He was averaging just 8.8 PPG and had been held under 60 yards in six of seven games over that stretch. He hadn’t scored since Week 4! Not only did many people bench him, but most teams that had Evans didn’t even make the fantasy playoffs to begin with.

And that's the crucial part. It's not enough to have players who score a lot. It's important to know WHEN to start them.

Starting your CeeDee Lambs (or Eights as I call him) of the world is easy. In theory, your first five picks should all be CeeDee Lambs -- the players you will start every week barring injury or a bye.

But what about the rest of your lineup? Once I get to the middle of my drafts, I no longer seek players who are consistent high-floor performers. Because they're all gone. Now, I want players who could wind up as an elite option at a position in any given week, and that I feel I'll have a chance to see it coming.

I used to call this the "Never James White" Rule.

James White was a solid fantasy football player during his peak. From 2016-2019, White was the RB25 in PPG. But for those playing in standard sized leagues, James White never had as much fantasy value as that ranking would lead you to believe. The reason being, he very rarely had 20-point games that could win you a week. It was just a consistent stream of 10-12-point games that added up over time.

Now, compare that to a player like Alexander Mattison. When Dalvin Cook was still in Minnesota, Mattison had zero standalone fantasy value. Yet over the past two seasons, Mattison averaged 21.7 PPG and 26.3 touches in the four games that Cook missed with injury. Mattison was an obvious top-12 RB play whenever Cook was out. Clear and simple.

2022 Kenneth Walker is also a good example of this. Walker’s ADP fell to around RB40 last year because Rashaad Penny was the starter and there was concern Walker wouldn’t see many touches early in the season. Well after Penny (shockingly) got hurt five weeks into the season, Walker went on to be a top-10 RB the rest of the way averaging over 22 touches and 101 scrimmage yards in his 10 full games as the starter.

This is why I say rankings are just a loose guideline and in many ways their accuracy in the context of a full season doesn't matter on a week-to-week basis. To give a "player you draft in later rounds" example for this season, consider Samaje Perine and Tyler Allgeier. Perine is a little unique because he will likely have standalone value given Sean Payton’s history of using multiple RBs, but this is also a player who had 48 touches and 248 yards in the two games Joe Mixon missed last season. If Javonte Williams were to miss any time, Perine would be a locked in top-20 play those weeks. As for Allgeier, he’s easily forgotten after the Falcons used the 8th overall pick on Bijan Robinson. What should be remembered however is that Tyler Allgeier saw 20+ touches in each of his final three games last season and was the RB8 in PPG from Weeks 15-17. Nobody is rooting for a massive Bijan season more than me, but injuries happen and that gives Allgeier massive contingent value.

As you are filling out your bench, you need to view it in the context of the quality of players available on the waiver wire. Now, don't go wild. Drafting a high number of these boom-or-bust players makes sense only if you know you can easily find viable production on the waiver wire during bye weeks or in case of injury. But the positive is that it won't cost much draft-day capital for these upside types. They generally will be ranked much lower in pre-draft season-long rankings than they will be ranked in the weeks when you know you'll need to use them. That's why I don’t want to reach for players like Gus Edwards -- who adds nothing in the receiving game and even if Dobbins were to miss time, would still share carries with Lamar, Justice Hill and potentially even Melvin Gordon -- when Tyjae Spears comes cheaper despite being a Derrick Henry injury away from becoming a must-start option.

Habit 6: They are adaptable and trust themselves above all others

Obviously, you should be watching, reading, listening to as much as possible before you draft, and that means all summer. Hey, there's no offseason! This will help you have an opinion on every player. You don't need to memorize every stat or break down every play, but just have a general sense of whether you are "pro" or "con" the player and what general value you give him. Because, as Mike Tyson likes to say, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."

The point is, you never know what to expect during a draft. There can be extreme runs and there can be drafters who have wildly different values than you, so players you didn't expect to be available are there for the taking. And there may be someone drafting in front of you using your exact rankings they printed from and laughing as they draft the player you want while commenting, "Hahaha do you LOVE this pick, Berry?!"

That last one may be specific to only me.

But highly effective drafters are the ones who don't enter with a specific hard-and-fast strategy. By doing the work and being prepared, by mock drafting like it's your job, by being flexible, you'll be able to adapt on the fly and you won't let your draft be dictated by anyone or anything, but you.

Habit 7: They approach the draft as just the first step toward success

Just because draft day is the most important day, that doesn't mean it's the only important day. You don't have to win the league during your draft. In fact, it's unlikely that you will. If your fantasy football season is a building under construction, then the draft is the foundation. If there's a run on quarterbacks, instead of forcing it and reaching early for a guy in the tier below, grab another wide receiver. Give yourself some surplus so you have something to trade. Trust me, another lower-tier quarterback will still be there next round.

And this goes with what I was talking about in terms of not sweating rankings or ADP too much and going for upside, because you're likely dropping some of these guys on the way to glory anyway. Last year, Justin Fields, Jamaal Williams and Evan Engram were all waiver wire pickups. Jerick McKinnon, another mid-season add, was the RB2 over the final six weeks. Happens every year.

And remember, sometimes a winning waiver pickup is one you only need for a couple weeks. Deon Jackson finished with only 98 total touches last season, but in Weeks 5-6 when Jonathan Taylor was out, Jackson averaged 20.6 PPG. Latavius Murray was inactive for three of the first four weeks before finishing as a top-25 RB for the Broncos over the second half of the season.

Your fantasy season will be a constant work in progress, so understand that as you construct your team on draft day it's not just about acquiring players in the draft, and later via free agency and trade, but ultimately how you use them. In-season roster decision-making will be crucial for you to get that championship. But that's a story for "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective In-Season Managers."