Top NFL Performers Using Math! Through Week 2
- written by
on Sep 18th, 2012
We here at numberFire have a little trick that we like to use. It's called math. While a lot of other sports analysis sites use nothing more than the eye-test to base their opinions, we like to take it a step further. Anybody can tell you that Reggie Bush did halfway decent against the Raiders on Sunday. But it's numberFire's specialty to tell you just how good Reggie Bush did, and how much he contributed to the Dolphins pulling out that victory.
One of our favorite tools to determine a player's value is Net Expected Points, or NEP for short. You'll see NEP all over our site and my writing, but it's a little bit harder to explain. 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 with that fun explanation out of the way, let's get into the analysis.
Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 2
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP: 41.54
NEP per Pass: 0.49
RGIII was all set to be anointed as the top quarterback in the league after Week 2, then Scumbag Ryan had to swoop in during Monday Night Football and have almost as good of a game as he did in week 1. Ryan gained just over 23 of his NEP against the Chiefs in week 1, but ten NEP against the Broncos on 36 passes is nothing to sneeze at. The most important reason for Ryan's ascension up the QB charts has been his lack of mistakes: he is one of only two NFL QBs (Alex Smith being the other) with at least four TDs but no interceptions so far this season. His yards per attempt may only be 11th in the NFL, but as long as he keeps avoiding mistakes, he'll be at or near the top of these charts. Not bad for a guy who was outside the top 5 on many preseason QB lists (well, except numberFire's).
Best of the Rest
2. Robert Griffin III: 30.36 NEP (0.35 per pass, 0.49 per rush)
3. Philip Rivers: 27.93 NEP (0.39 per pass)
4. Ben Roethlisberger: 25.49 NEP (0.31 per pass)
5. Cam Newton: 24.80 NEP (0.47 per pass, -0.13 per rush)
Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Total NEP: 18.76
NEP per Rush: 0.65 (0.01 per catch)
I placed my personal cut-off at 20 carries (ten per week) for this particular category, or else you'd be seeing running backs like Shaun Draughn or Lamar Miller who had solid backup appearances but haven't yet sustained that play for a high period of time. And I don't know about you, but I don't want to see Shaun Draughn in my top five list of anything. If you've watched the NFL at all during the first two weeks, you know just how strong C.J. Spiller has been with his league-leading 292 yards rushing, absolutely ludicrous 10.1 yards per carry, and NFL-leading three TDs to boot. But perhaps even more impressive is his success rate; Spiller has increased the Bills' chances of scoring on 58.6% of his rushes, easily the best percentage in the league. By comparison, only two other backs with at least 20 carries, Ray Rice and Michael Bush, have a success rate even above 40%. That's when you know C.J. Spiller has made a difference.
Best of the Rest
2. Ray Rice: 9.94 NEP (0.13 per rush, 0.48 per catch)
3. Matt Forte: 9.91 NEP (0.04 per rush, 0.82 per catch)
4. Reggie Bush: 7.00 NEP (0.08 per rush, 0.37 per catch)
5. Stevan Ridley: 6.35 NEP (0.12 per rush, 0.26 per catch)
Wide Receivers: Malcom Floyd - San Diego Chargers
Season Total NEP: 16.28
NEP per Target: 1.37
For receivers, there are two different ways to measure NEP. First, you could take the NEP only on balls that the receiver actually caught. Second, you could take the NEP on any balls targeted the receiver's way, which would take into account both drops as well as bad/batted passes from the QB. Since a player's true efficiency is how much they matter to the team on every play, I'm going to use the NEP statistic based on targets rather than actual catches. Part of a receiver's job isn't just yards after catch, but to actually catch the ball and get open too, right? That switch up knocks Victor Cruz from the #1 spot with 23.81 NEP based on catches all the way down to only 1.86 NEP based on targets. That's what happens when you have an average 61% catch rate, buddy. Instead, Malcom Floyd takes the jump from #3 to #1, influenced heavily by his 71% catch rate and ability to catch the ball in key situations. Floyd's having a quietly solid season, sitting just outside the top 10 with 175 yards and third among receivers with at least 10 catches at 17.5 yards per reception. With Robert Meachem doing next to nothing his first two games in the powder blues, Floyd has been a godsend. And especially in pressure-filled situations, Floyd has gotten the job done keeping the Chargers' expected points rate high.
Best of the Rest
2. Roddy White: 13.73 NEP (0.93 per target)
3. Andre Johnson: 13.69 NEP (1.13 per target)
4. Hakeem Nicks: 13.57 NEP (0.91 per target)
5. Percy Harvin: 13.10 NEP (0.73 per target)
Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP: 12.57
NEP per Target: 1.37
Well now, look at Old Man Gonzalez at the top of the tight end charts. He really thinks he's so good, even at somewhere around 76 years old? Yes, yes he does, and that's not coming out of thin air. Gonzalez is one of only eight tight ends to have caught 2 TD passes, has a solid 75% catch rate on 16 Matt Ryan targets, and ranks sixth among all TEs with his 123 receiving yards. Most important for numberFire's purposes, though, is his ability to keep drives alive. So far this season, ten of Gonzalez's 12 catches have been for first downs, tied with Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski for the most first down catches among tight ends (and only two behind teammate Roddy White for the NFL lead). I warned you before the season even started to buy low on Gonzalez, and he's proving why through these first two weeks. They make walkers much sturdier than they used to. Oh, and if you're wondering where Jimmy Graham is, he fell victim to the Cruz bug. He would have been first if I organized this list by catches only, but his 13 for 23 rate catching targets plummets him down the list.
Best of the Rest
2. Brandon Myers: 12.56 NEP (1.14 per target)
3. Vernon Davis: 12.36 NEP (1.28 per target)
4. Rob Gronkowski: 12.29 NEP (0.97 per target)
5. Heath Miller: 9.86 NEP (1.23 per target)