MVP Watch: the NFL's Top Positional Performers (Week 4)

When in doubt, use the power of Math! to tell you the top five players at each fantasy position in the NFL.

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 last week's 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 a ton of Falcons at the top, with a whole new receiver rocketing up the charts to take Malcom Floyd's crown from last week away.

Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 3

Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP: 57.05
NEP per Pass: 0.45
Last Week: #1

Different week, same story, as Matt Ryan still claims the top of the charts. Is it too early to start the "Matt Ryan for MVP" chants? I'll wait in line longer than for the iPhone 5. His average NEP per pass rating actually went down in week 3, to +0.45 NEP per pass, good for first in the entire NFL. He still gained about 16 points of value for his team over the average QB in week 3, not that the Falcons needed it with the way the defense shut down Philip Rivers (who drops from #3 to outside the top five himself this week). At this rate, Ryan would add about 304 NEP of value over the average NFL QB. As a point of comparison, Ryan added 133 points of value last season, and the Falcons finished 10-6 and gained a Wild Card birth. The single highest NEP value added in a season over the past dozen years was Tom Brady's 269.22 NEP mark in 2007, followed by Drew Brees's 258.56 mark last season. It's extremely early, but as I mentioned earlier today, the Falcons don't have the hardest schedule in the world. A season with 250 points of value added isn't out of the question.

Best of the Rest
2. Ben Roethlisberger: 49.10 NEP, 0.37 per pass (Last Week: #4)
3. Christian Ponder: 42.63 NEP, 0.39 per pass (Last Week: #7)
4. Matt Schaub: 39.01 NEP, 0.40 per pass (Last Week: #8)
5. Robert Griffin III: 34.20 NEP, 0.15 per pass, 0.67 per rush (Last Week: #2)

Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Total NEP: 22.58
NEP per Rush: 0.56 Last Week: #1

He can do more than just run the ball! C.J. Spiller only actually had four rushes for 16 yards on Sunday before getting injured, but his receiving touchdown goes a long way towards keeping him at the top of these charts. That receiving prowess isn't something we had seen from Spiller previously. He had only gained 0.01 NEP of value for the Bills receiving the first two weeks of this season, and he had contributed a little under 20 points of value catching the ball (while playing primarily as a pass-catching third-down back, mind you) during his first two seasons in Buffalo. We may have to wait a little bit to see if that streak will continue - Spiller's listed as doubtful for this week and may just drop off the charts due to a lack of touches. But watch out for Darren Sproles in that #2 spot; he's almost cheating by being more of a receiver than a running back for the Saints this season. His 26 targets are second in the NFL behind Darren McFadden, while he has only rushed the ball seven times (but been effective in those seven attempts).

Best of the Rest
2. Darren Sproles: 15.89 NEP, 0.10 per rush, 0.61 per target (Last Week: N/A)
3. Ray Rice: 12.34 NEP, 0.08 per rush, 0.45 per target (Last Week: #2)
4. Matt Forte: 9.91 NEP, 0.04 per rush, 0.82 per target (Last Week: #3)
5. Andre Brown: 9.80 NEP, 0.24 per rush, 0.23 per target (Last Week: N/A)

Note: Sproles and Brown are "N/A" for last week as they had not met my minimum touches requirements.

Wide Receivers: Mike Wallace - Pittsburgh Steelers
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 25.56
NEP per Target: 1.34
Last Week: #10

It's the NFL's best infomercial: "Are you hurt, injured, or just plain 10th among all receivers in terms of NEP? We can help! Come to Oakland, where you'll face off against one of numberFire's worst secondaries in the league. You may not win the game, but your stats will shoot sky high!" After his 123 receiving yards with one TD on eight catches against the Raiders on Sunday, Wallace takes a huge leap up to grab the #1 spot on this list. The main reason isn't just that he's producing (his 40 fantasy points are third among all receivers), but that he's doing it in a much more efficient manner than anyone else in the league. His 22 targets are actually second on his own team behind Antonio Brown's 29 and only two ahead of Heath Miller's 20. Wallace's targets are also 27th in the NFL; Donny Avery, Brian Hartline, and Kendall Wright are among the receivers that have had more balls thrown their way. But unlike the rest of those guys, he is making the fewer opportunities he's been given count. So far this year, Wallace is converting those targets at a 77% catch rate, 14% higher than his previous season high from 2011. His 1.34 NEP per target rate is also third among all receivers with at least 10 throws their direction, only behind big-play bombers Jeremy Kerley and Cecil Shorts (both of whom have only had 11 targets on the season).

Best of the Rest
2. Calvin Johnson: 21.57 NEP, 1.09 per target (Last Week: #23)
3. Percy Harvin: 21.10 NEP, 0.78 per target (Last Week: #5)
4. Andre Johnson: 20.08 NEP, 1.33 per target (Last Week: #3)
5. Roddy White: 18.85 NEP, 0.93 per target (Last Week: #2)

Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 18.63
NEP per Target: 0.96
Last Week: #1

Old Man Gonzalez has done it again. The key for Gonzalez so far this season has been consistency: he gained 6.86 NEP of value in week 1 against the Chiefs, 5.71 NEP of value in week 2 against the Broncos, and 6.06 NEP of value week 3 against the Chargers. In a crowded tight end field this season, he stands out as the best of the best because of quantity and quality. His current 28 targets are the most of any player in that crowded Falcons receiving corps, ahead of both Roddy White (27 targets) and Julio Jones (23 targets). He is third among looks his way among all tight ends, only behind co-leaders Dennis Pitta and Jimmy Graham (31 a piece). But more importantly for these rankings, he's actually doing a good job of catching those balls. His 75% catch rate is right in line with his past numbers; his 69.0% catch rate last season was among the top five of all starting tight ends. Meanwhile, those two guys ahead of him in the targets watch have not caught the ball nearly as well - Pitta is at 60%, while Graham is at a dreadful 54.8% rate catching the ball this season. And much like Matt Ryan as we talked about earlier, his schedule doesn't get much harder from here.

Best of the Rest
2. Brandon Myers: 17.94 NEP, 1.20 per target (Last Week: #2)
3. Kyle Rudolph: 17.86 NEP, 1.20 per target (Last Week: #9)
4. Vernon Davis: 17.64 NEP, 1.15 per target (Last Week: #3)
5. Heath Miller: 16.76 NEP, 1.04 per target (Last Week: #5)