While other sites and analysis may look at standard statistics like yards per carry and completion percentages to determine the best player in the league - the MVP - we like to dig a little deeper here at numberFire. We like to use our favorite metric, Net Expected Points.
Since common numbers such as yards, completions and touchdowns don't tell the whole story about a player, we can use NEP (click here for a detailed explanation of NEP) to truly see who's separating themselves from the pack. We can find the players who actually are contributing the most points for their respective teams, dubbing them the most valuable in the league.
Because this advanced metric alters tremendously depending on the position being analyzed, we'll look at each of the skill positions - not all of them as one group - individually through the first nine weeks of the season to determine the most valuable player at each position. You will see higher NEP values for quarterbacks and receivers than for running backs due to the nature of their production.
Let's get at it.
Top-5 NEP Performers by Position Through Week 9
Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Season Passing NEP: 152.40
NEP per pass: 0.44
Are we really surprised that Peyton holds this spot? He's been the best at the position since Week 1, and it hasn't stopped. It could get bumpy over the next few weeks, but there is no reason to think he can’t continue his stronghold on this position. It's going to take a few near--perfect games from Drew Brees and Philip Rivers to really close the gap.
Rivers did a great job contributing to his team's point total this past week despite his two interceptions; Brees also had two interceptions, but had a minimal gain in his next expected points score. This is just another example of how common stats are not enough to evaluate players, as Rivers contributed more on a per pass basis in Week 9 than Brees did.
Aaron Rodgers seems to be cemented in the fourth spot in our ranks, but it shouldn't be surprising to see anyone take his spot while he's out with a collarbone injury.
It'll be interesting to see how Tom Brady rises over the second half of the season (went from outside the top-20 to 15th this week), as his receivers become healthy and Shane Vereen returns. RGIII is getting healthier by the week too, and he rose into the top-10 this week at the position. Both will be interesting to watch over the final eight weeks of the season.
2. Drew Brees: 97.30 Passing NEP, 0.28 per pass
3. Philip Rivers: 97.29 Passing NEP, 0.32 per pass
4. Aaron Rodgers: 81.40 Passing NEP, 0.30 per pass
5. Matthew Stafford: 62.46 Passing NEP, 0.18 per pass
Running Backs: Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos
Season Rushing NEP: 14.71
NEP per rush: 0.13
The Denver Broncos are hoarding the awards here at the midseason, but it makes sense given their dominance offensively. Moreno wasn’t expected to have such a role in this offense, but has shown extreme efficiency.LeSean McCoy, Zac Stacy and Marshawn Lynch have shown great receiving efficiency, but Stacy and Lynch have not show the rushing efficiency as of yet to break into the top five.
Eddie Lacy cracked the top 10 this week after a solid game against the Bears. Lacy has been running harder and better according to his coaches, and it has show in his contributions to his team's points. We could see his NEP continue to rise and possibly crack the top five by season's end, but it'll be interesting to watch and see if his efficiency goes up or down without Rodgers.
His opponent from Monday night, Matt Forte, should also see a rise if he keeps eating up clock during eight-minute drives. Forte could knock on the door of the top two before season's end due to his efficiency in rushing as well as receiving in Trestman's improving offense.
Keep in mind that these are purely rushing statistics, so the contribution through the air isn't factored in.
2. LeSean McCoy: 13.22 rush NEP, 0.08 per rush
3. Alfred Morris: 11.01 rush NEP, 0.08 per rush
4. Matt Forte: 10.99 rush NEP, 0.08 per rush
5. DeMarco Murray: 8.68 rush NEP, 0.10 per rush
Wide Receivers: DeSean Jackson - Philadelphia Eagles
Season Target NEP: 46.36
Reception NEP per target: 0.84
The first thing to keep in mind with these metrics is that Target NEP shows how many points a receiver is adding for his team on all targets, whereas Reception NEP looks at receptions only. The Reception NEP per target, in essence, shows us efficiency.
Jackson has been one of the two biggest players to really benefit from Chip Kelly's style of offense, with McCoy being the other. With the value DeSean is adding to the Eagles, it's no wonder he's on pace for over 1,400 yards, attempting to break the team record. With Nick Foles sending one touchdown and 150 yards Jackson's way against the Raiders, he was able to add a whopping 12.78 points to his Target NEP on the year.
Overall, the inherent up-and-down nature of the receiver position will make it one of the most entertaining to watch over the upcoming weeks. Megatron is bound to climb the ranks a bit now that he's finally healthy - a big reason for his lack of NEP success is due to his slow 2013 start. And one other guy worth watching: Keenan Allen. He has one of the best efficiency scores per target in the top 10, and if he continues to get more looks from Rivers, he'll be a top-five receiver in no time.
2. Jordy Nelson: 45.15 Target NEP, 1.09 Reception NEP per target
3. Demaryius Thomas: 33.96 Target NEP, 0.86 Reception NEP per target
4. Calvin Johnson: 33.50 Target NEP, 0.94 Reception NEP per target
5. Anquan Boldin: 33.50 Target NEP, 0.83 Reception NEP per target
Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham - New Orleans Saints
Season NEP (based on targets): 43.86
NEP per target: 0.99
Despite battling injuries, Graham has been spectacular all season long, even if he is only playing a quarter of his team's snaps at times. If he hadn't been held to zero receptions in the tilt against the Patriots, he would probably have this award in the bag. Graham has been electrifying in his fourth year, joining other young tight ends such as Julius Thomas (another guy with a breakout year in Peyton's offense), Jordan Reed, and Jordan Cameron. The only veteran in the bunch is Jason Witten, being around almost as long as the other four tight ends combined.
Tight ends are more effective in the passing game nowadays, and this year is no different. Graham is benefiting from having Sean Payton back, and is on pace to equal - if not surpass - some of his career marks. It makes sense given his ridiculous 10-touchdown total through Week 9.
2. Julius Thomas: 39.00 NEP, 0.93 per target
3. Jordan Reed: 33.58 NEP, 0.95 per target
4. Jason Witten: 32.40 NEP, 0.73 per target
5. Jordan Cameron: 31.15 NEP, 0.81 per target