This is where Advanced Sports Logic’s “The Machine” gives fantasy owners the edge to make the right call when the clock is running down on draft day. It’s true that fantasy championships aren’t won solely by using statistical analysis to make decisions, but The Machine provides fantasy owners with a player’s projected statistical value, enabling them to make more informed decisions.

Comparing The Machine’s projected values against the general consensus (average draft position) value of a certain player, is where fantasy owners can find and extract hidden sources of value, which can be the difference between contending for a fantasy championship or missing the playoffs entirely.  

Before we go any further, there is one important caveat, which should be established up front. Projection systems are not designed to achieve 100% accuracy. Rankings and projections are tailored as guidelines and should never be taken as gospel. At the end of the day, your roster, so make the decision that you can live with, even if it goes against the numbers.

One of the most common cliché’s attached to draft strategy, which has been around since the dawn of time, is the belief that “you can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it if you make the wrong selection.” There is a certain amount of inherent risk associated with each selection, but a misstep in first round can be devastating to a fantasy teams playoff hopes.

According to the average draft position data (12-team, PPR) , here are the players currently going off the board in the first round of 2015 drafts:

  1. Odell Beckham WR NYG (3.33)
  2. Le’Veon Bell RB PIT (4.62)
  3. Dez Bryant WR DAL (4.62)
  4. Antonio Brown WR PIT (4.96)
  5. Julio Jones WR ATL (6.10)
  6. Rob Gronkowski TE NE (7.41)
  7. Andrew Luck QB IND (9.43)
  8. Demaryius Thomas WR DEN (9.99)
  9. Eddie Lacy RB GB (11.08)
  10. A.J. Green WR CIN (11.45)
  11. Mike Evans WR TB (12.33)
  12. Calvin Johnson WR DET (14.87)

That’s eight wide receivers and one tight end off the board in the first round. It’s nearly the exact opposite of what we witnessed last year when five of the first six selections in most leagues were fantasy RBs.

It’s another tacky cliché at this point, but it’s no secret that the NFL has evolved into a passing league over the past decade. Eleven quarterbacks reached the 4,000-yard plateau last season. Just 10 years ago, back in 2005, Tom Brady and Trent Green (I know right?) were the only quarterbacks to eclipse 4,000 yards.  

Nowhere is the value of an elite fantasy quarterback more apparent than in The Machine’s standard blended projections, which projects 20 of the top 27 performers this upcoming season will be signal callers. We will cover the quarterback question (when to draft one and how to pick the right one to invest in) in greater detail the next few weeks, but lets toss them out of the equation for now. Since most leagues only start one quarterback, there will be a plethora of options available on draft day.

Aside from Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers, who are surefire first round picks in all leagues, but the bigger question is how the rest of the first round shakes out, and where are all of the running backs? According to The Machine’s projections (12-team, PPR, average draft position in parenthesis) wide receivers have become the new must-have commodity in the first round: 

  1. Antonio Brown WR PIT (4)
  2. Demaryius Thomas WR DEN (8)
  3. Julio Jones WR ATL (5)
  4. Dez Bryant WR DAL (3)
  5. Rob Gronkowski TE NE (6)
  6. Odell Beckham WR NYG (1)
  7. Jamaal Charles RB KC (14)
  8. Calvin Johnson WR DET (12)
  9. Matt Forte RB CHI (25)
  10. Alshon Jeffery WR CHI (16) 

The Machine exposes a potential bargain for savvy fantasy owners with it’s lofty projections for veterans Jamaal Charles, Calvin Johnson and Matt Forte, who are not as highly regarded in terms of average draft position.

A combination of Charles age (28) and a decline in his impact as a receiver out of the backfield last season (40 receptions for 291 yards and five touchdowns) have resulted in a fall out of the first round in most drafts this season. The Machine is more optimistic and with good reason. The former Longhorn has rushed for 1,000 yards in five of the last six seasons and scored at least 14 total touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.  Look for him in ASL RB news for updates.

Megatron battled through a litany of injuries last season, but remains arguably the most physically gifted wide receiver in the game and a virtual lock for 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns.

Out of the trio of undervalued first round talents, Forte carries the most risk. The move to a John Fox offense could potentially result in a cutback in opportunities as a receiver out of the backfield, where he posted a career-high 102 receptions for 808 yards last season. Those concerns have depressed his fantasy stock to the point where he is actually a bargain in point-per-reception formats at his current ADP.

In RB fantasy news, you might have noticed that neither Le’Veon Bell nor Eddie Lacy, popular first round selections so far, grade out as a value at their current price. Also missing from the list is Adrian Peterson, who ranks just outside the first round in The Machine’s current projections.

The Machine anticipates that elite wide receivers and Rob Gronkowski (assuming he stays healthy) will ultimately be the safest investments in the first round of fantasy drafts this fall. Given all of the risks associated with the small core of elite running backs left thanks to backfield committees, building the core of a fantasy roster around a stud receiver is looking more appealing than ever heading into the 2015 campaign.

Stay tuned to ASL for the most comprehensive RB fantasy football information and more!