MVP Watch: The NFL's Top Positional Performers (Week 13)
Most other places use common metrics to tell you who the best player in the NFL is. We're better than that. In order to determine who the best player in the NFL is, we ask one simple question: who gains their team the most points? And to find out, numberFire likes to use a number called Net Expected Points. In a past top performers article, I gave this explanation for NEP:
Every single situation on the football field has an expected point value; that is, how many points an average team would be expected to score in that situation. For example, the Chiefs may be facing the Pittsburgh Steelers, with a third and two on the 50 yard line. That's a ton of variables, but luckily, numberFire has data from the past dozen years of every single play, so most situations have come up at least once. According to our data, an average team may be "expected" to score 1.23 (estimated number) points on that drive. However, Jamaal Charles reels off a 32-yard run to bring the Chiefs into the red zone, increasing the "expected" point value of the next play to 4.23 (still an estimated number) points. Jamaal Charles then gets credit for the difference, in this case 2.96 points, as his NEP total. That's Net Expected Points.
Since passing is often more efficient than running the ball, you'll often see running backs with negative NEP per play scores, meaning that they are losing their team expected points every time they touch the ball. Receivers and tight ends, meanwhile, will usually have high, positive NEP per play scores, since receivers don't touch the ball unless it's a high-yardage completion. Quarterbacks can be in the middle, either positive or negative: completions typically help their score, while incompletions lower it. So when you're looking at NEP, it's important to look at the numbers based on position.
And when you take a look at what the NEP numbers give us this week, it's starting to not even be a fun race anymore.
Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 12
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady - New England Patriots
Season Total NEP: 176.06
NEP per Pass: 0.35
Last Week: #1
So let me get this straight: Tom Brady only gains about five points above expectation for the Patriots this week, and he still has over a 40 NEP lead over his next closest competitor? This isn't even fun anymore. In his 12 games this season, Brady has averaged over two touchdowns per game (14.7 NEP) greater than expectation for the New England Patriots, easily the highest average in the league. To put that in perspective, the Patriots currently sit at 9-3. Of those nine wins, four were a margin of victory of two touchdowns or less.
Peyton Manning has been receiving tons of hype as the MVP, but while he has had a solid season by our metrics, he's barely even in the top five of the conversation. In fact, the numbers make a much stronger case for the rookie Griffin over Manning. While having a slightly lessened NEP per pass average (0.21 to Manning's 0.27), Griffin's rushing ability more than makes up for his - shock and horror - eighth-best NEP per pass mark. This season, RGIII has registered 57.88 NEP just by rushing for the Redskins, easily the highest total of any single player in the league. Quarterbacks typically have higher NEP per rush marks considering defenses view them as less likely to take off, but even when compared to his peers, RGIII stands out. Griffin has registered 0.58 NEP per rush this season; Cam Newton sits at 0.43 while Michael Vick remains at an abysmal 0.06 per rush.
Best of the Rest
2. Aaron Rodgers: 133.45 NEP, 0.26 per pass (Last Week: #6)
3. Robert Griffin III: 133.09 NEP, 0.21 per pass, 0.58 per rush (Last Week: #4)
4. Matt Ryan: 129.94 NEP, 0.25 per pass (Last Week: #2)
5. Peyton Manning: 125.74 NEP, 0.27 per pass (Last Week: #5)
Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Total NEP: 30.31
NEP per Rush: 0.12
Last Week: #1
With C.J. Spiller remaining at the top of these charts, it still endlessly perplexes me as to why Buffalo would run Fred Jackson 25 times against the Jaguars and C.J. Spiller only 14 times. I've seen it mentioned that the weather played a role, and Chan Gailey originally intended for Spiller to take roughly 65% of the carries. But if that's the case, and you are going to be running the ball a ton, wouldn't that make it more conducive to have Spiller in the game, even with the possibility of slipping due to a wet field? But even those 14 carries were above the norm for Spiller. In games where both Jackson and Spiller have played, Spiller has not received more than 14 carries. Jackson, meanwhile, has registered 16 carries or more three times this season.
Easily the top running back performance of the week, though, has to go to Adrian Peterson. His 210 yards rushing are easy to interpret, as is his 10.0 yards per carry and 82-yard touchdown. What might not be as apparent, though, is exactly how many points he added to the Vikings. Entering Week 13, he only had given the Vikings 5.95 NEP of total value, a pretty good amount for a non-pass catching back, but not otherworldly. But against the Packers, Adrian Peterson amassed 10.45 NEP all by his lonesome, increasing his season total to an excellent 16.40. He also increased his NEP per rush total from 0.01 to 0.05. Now that's a successful day, especially when you consider the Vikings only scored 14 points total on the game.
Best of the Rest
2. Ray Rice: 18.10 NEP, -0.05 per rush, 0.43 per catch (Last Week: #2)
3. Adrian Peterson: 16.40 NEP, 0.05 per rush, 0.11 per catch (Last Week: #5)
4. Doug Martin: 9.03 NEP, -0.06 per rush, 0.51 per catch (Last Week: #4)
5. Frank Gore: 3.43 NEP, -0.02 per rush, 0.08 per catch (Last Week: #3)
Wide Receivers: Calvin Johnson - Detroit Lions
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 79.67
NEP per Catch: 0.92
Last Week: #1
Another week, another performance of over 10 NEP added for the Lions. Ho hum. When is he going to switch it up for once and not go for massive amounts of yards and touchdowns? He now has at least 129 yards receiving dating back to before election night; he has at least one touchdown in each of his past four games. This is getting unfair. He would have to go catchless for Demaryius Thomas to catch him... I was barely able to type that sentence without cracking up laughing.
But let's not forget all the work Thomas has done even keeping pace with Megatron at the top of the charts. With 8.19 NEP of value for the Broncos this week himself, Demaryius Thomas has proven to be one of the best receivers in the league. My main issue with Thomas entering the season had to do with his catch rate, and he has answered all of those questions with ease: his current 67% catch rate is over 11 percentage points higher than his previous career-best. It must be nice to have Peyton Manning in town, wouldn't you say?
Best of the Rest
2. Demaryius Thomas: 70.28 NEP, 0.94 per catch (Last Week: #2)
3. Andre Johnson: 62.56 NEP, 0.90 per catch (Last Week: #3)
4. Brandon Marshall: 60.01 NEP, 0.83 per catch (Last Week: #8)
5. Wes Welker: 59.48 NEP, 0.71 per catch (Last Week: #6)
Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 58.40
NEP per Catch: 0.90
Last Week: #2
It only took a few weeks of Gronkowski not playing, but Old Man Gonzalez has finally reclaimed his spot on top of the tight end throne (but only by a hair). He added 7.50 NEP to the Falcons this week, ending the game as the team's leading receiver in nearly all categories against the Saints. And true to form, he has gotten back up to the top through the Gonzalez staple: sure hands. His four-for-five catch rate against the Saints was about consistent with his season average, sitting at 75.2% on the season. Among tight ends with at least 50 targets, only Brandon Myers has higher; among all non-RB players, only Randall Cobb joins him.
Perhaps Gonzalez could teach a thing or two to Owen Daniels, who has seen a freefall from the top spot in Week 9 to placing eighth in the current tight end charts (and just barely ahead of Vernon Davis for ninth). While the Texans have been giving him plenty of opportunities - his 82 targets are second on the team by a wide margin - he simply hasn't been able to convert them. His current 60.4% catch rate is the worst of any tight end in the top ten of the standings, and it would be a worse rate than all but one (2010) of his six previous NFL seasons.
Best of the Rest
2. Rob Gronkowski: 57.71 NEP, 1.00 per catch (Last Week: #1)
3. Heath Miller: 43.97 NEP, 0.89 per catch (Last Week: #3)
4. Jason Witten: 40.17 NEP, 0.65 per catch (Last Week: #8)
5. Brandon Myers: 39.91 NEP, 0.75 per catch (Last Week: #9)