MVP Watch: The NFL's Top Positional Performers (Week 5)

Most teams are a quarter of the way through the season, and it's a Dirty Bird sitting on top of our rankings.

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, there is yet another new name at the top of the wide receiver charts, and Matt Ryan still rules over all.

Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 4

Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP: 63.98
NEP per Pass: 0.36
Last Week: #1

How much can you consider a 300+ yard, 3 TD, 1 INT day as unsuccessful? Strangely enough, it was for Matt Ryan, as his roughly eight NEP signified the least amount of value he's given the Falcons in any single game this season. Think about that for a second. He only gained the Falcons about eight points more than the average player would have given them. That's just how good he's been this year. His late drive was enough to keep the Falcons undefeated, and the Panthers had to, in the words of the always eloquent Mr. Ryan, "Get the [edited] off our field!" At this point, Ryan could take a week off and would still likely be at the top of the MVP race. But with numberFire's #21 (Washington) and #32 (Oakland) defenses coming up in the next two weeks, I don't expect to see the Ryan bandwagon making any stops soon.

Best of the Rest
2. Matt Schaub: 51.95 NEP, 0.41 per pass (Last Week: #4)
3. Ben Roethlisberger: 49.10 NEP, 0.37 per pass (Last Week: #2)
4. Robert Griffin III: 48.00 NEP, 0.16 per pass, 0.68 per rush (Last Week: #5)
5. Andy Dalton: 46.68 NEP, 0.42 per pass, (Last Week: #8)

Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Rushing NEP: 14.02
NEP per Rush: 0.34
Last Week: #1

So, I went ahead and switched up the formula for running backs again. I know, I switch up my acceptance criteria more than a liberal arts college admission's office. But under the old set of criteria, receiving backs such as Darren Sproles and Joique Bell had an unfair advantage. So, once again, I am sticking to a stricter "10 touches per game, or you're out!" measurement. And while Darren Sproles may have more NEP by virtue of catching a ton of passes, C.J. Spiller has been the more effective actual running back this year. He wasn't overly effective in his return from injury, but after his incredible performances in weeks 1 and 2, he didn't have to be. His 33 yards rushing still led the Bills, even with Fred Jackson having five more carries on the ground. And another good sign for Spiller to stay on top of this chart is the Bills continuing to work him into the passing game. He had two targets thrown his way on Sunday and caught both of them.

Best of the Rest
2. Stevan Ridley: 8.84 NEP, 0.09 per rush, 0.23 per target (Last Week: #6)
3. Ray Rice: 8.14 NEP, -0.02 per rush, 0.31 per target (Last Week: #3)
4. Andre Brown: 7.53 NEP, 0.16 per rush, 0.17 per target (Last Week: #5)
5. Matt Forte: 5.20 NEP, -0.08 per rush, 0.66 per target (Last Week: #4)

Wide Receivers: Roddy White - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 33.14
NEP per Target: 1.09
Last Week: #5

For the third straight week, we have a new name on top of the NEP charts for wide receivers. But unlike Malcom Floyd and Mike Wallace, I expect to see Mr. White stay there. White has clearly become the #1 target for the #1 QB, which often spells big numbers for a receiver. But White's been able to be efficient as well as effective this season; his current 69% catch rate would be the best of his career and among the top of all NFL receivers. When coupled with the 39 targets he has seen this season (one behind being in the top 10 of the NFL), White has the deadly combination of both quality and quantity. As mentioned with Ryan, the Redskins and Raiders don't seem particularly adept at stopping the pass, and it would not surprise me to see him hold off Wallace and Megatron to be the first repeat-chart topper numberFire has had at WR this season.

Best of the Rest
2. Mike Wallace: 25.66 NEP, 1.34 per catch (Last Week: #1)
3. Calvin Johnson: 24.82 NEP, 0.95 per catch (Last Week: #2)
4. Andre Roberts: 23.07 NEP, 1.23 per catch (Last Week: #--)
5. Andre Johnson: 21.43 NEP, 1.15 per catch (Last Week: #4)

Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 23.07
NEP per Target: 0.95
Last Week: #1

Well would you look at that, Old Man Gonzalez has done it again, remaining at the top of the tight end charts to give the Falcons a near sweep. And just like last week, it's all about consistency. For the fourth time in four tries this season, Gonzalez has recorded a game of at least four NEP of value earned for the Falcons, the only tight end to accomplish such a feat in all game this season. Sunday was not his best statistical game of the season because of a lack of touchdowns, but I think a 50+ yard, 100% catch rate performance should suffice for Atlanta. Gonzalez is second on the team behind Roddy White with 33 targets, a number that places him fifth among all tight ends. But even more impressive is that ever-present catch rate. It now sits at 78.7% this year for Gonzalez, which is 6% higher than Rob Gronkowski's tight end-leading total last year and 10% higher than Gonzalez's career high. Is it possible for someone to have a breakout season at age 36? I'd say Gonzalez is managing nicely.

Best of the Rest
2. Vernon Davis: 19.59 NEP, 1.13 per catch (Last Week: #4)
3. Brandon Myers: 19.16 NEP, 1.17 per catch (Last Week: #2)
4. Owen Daniels: 17.35 NEP, 0.87 per catch (Last Week: #3)
5. Heath Miller: 16.76 NEP, 1.04 per catch (Last Week: #5)