MVP Watch: The NFL's Top Positional Performers (Week 6)

If at least one player from the Falcons does not end the year on top of their position, consider it an upset.

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, Roddy White finally provides some consistency at the receiver position (some), but it's his quarterback who still tops the charts.

Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 5

Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP: 70.59
NEP per Pass: 0.31
Last Week: #1

When does a lead become insurmountable? Matt Ryan had his worst QB rating of the season (I know, bad metric), his second-lowest completion percentage, and his second-lowest yards per attempt percentage. And he still gained seven points over expectation for his team en route to leading the Falcons to yet another victory. At this point, I'm not quite sure how he does it.

On the season, Matt Ryan has averaged a little more than 14 NEP added per game for the Falcons, raising their score total by two touchdowns on average per game. Considering that the Falcons have had three games decided by a touchdown or less so far this season, it's reasonable to say Atlanta would be somewhere around the 2-3 vicinity if their starting QB was, say, Sam Bradford. That's the sign of a true MVP: he has the ability singlehandedly influence outcomes.

Watch out for another big week, too, because the Oakland Raiders pass defense has not stopped anybody so far this season. It might give Ryan just enough of a lead to hold off a charging Matt Schaub, who would be right up there with him if Schaub had enough pass attempts. The Falcons have a bye the week after facing the Raiders.

Best of the Rest
2. Matt Schaub: 60.74 NEP, 0.40 per pass (Last Week: #2)
3. Tom Brady: 57.67 NEP, 0.27 per pass (Last Week: #6)
4. Ben Roethlisberger: 56.87 NEP, 0.33 per pass, (Last Week: #3)
5. Drew Brees: 56.28 NEP, 0.22 per pass, (Last Week: #9)

Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Rushing NEP: 15.00
NEP per Rush: 0.24
Last Week: #1

It intrigues me that he's still on the top of this list, but since he still remains barely over the "10 touches per game" metric I set by averaging 11.4 touches per game so far this year, he still deserves to be lauded for his excellent (weeks 1 and 2) play. At this point, I'm entirely unsure why the Bills aren't using him as the full-time back. Fred Jackson so far this season has contributed, ready for this, -7.41 NEP of value to the Bills. Even worse, rushing the ball has netted Jackson -12.52 NEP of value, or -0.45 NEP per rush. Of all players with at least 25 rushes on the season, Jackson is dead last in the NFL in NEP per rush. Ryan Williams is behind him with -0.42 per rush, and even Chris Johnson now sits with -0.39 per rush.

So the Bills aren't using Spiller because... why exactly? His rushing total was not great in week 5 - only seven rushes for 34 yards overall. But situationally, he ran much better than Jackson: those seven rushes netted his team almost a full point over expectation because of the down and distance stiuations where they occurred. When you consider the Bills only put up three points against the Niners on Sunday, they could have used all the help they could get. If Buffalo's smart, they will incorporate Spiller into the offense more in week 6, especially against the tough Cardinals defense.

Best of the Rest
2. Ray Rice: 10.48 NEP, 0.17 per rush, 0.31 per catch (Last Week: #3)
3. Stevan Ridley: 10.24 NEP, 0.08 per rush, 0.23 per catch (Last Week: #2)
4. Matt Forte: 6.75 NEP, -0.04 per rush, 0.57 per catch (Last Week: #5)
5. Frank Gore: 6.64 NEP, 0.07 per rush, 0.09 per catch (Last Week: #6)

Wide Receivers: Roddy White - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 38.53
NEP per Catch: 1.10
Last Week: #1

After four straight weeks of a merry-go-round at the top of the receiving charts, we finally found the first player to be stationary: Roddy White. By most accounts, White's week was a failure, but when you have come to expect a touchdown from a receiver every single week of the season, you know he's been a good one. Really, this race isn't even close: even without recording a single catch this past week, White would still be in second place behind Colston, less than 0.3 NEP behind. The Falcons offense has gone off without a hitch.

The much more interesting part of the receiver's list for me occurs right behind Roddy White. As we've seen at the top of the charts, receiving NEP is very tumultuous; any player can rise or fall at the top of a hat. I just wasn't expecting to see four of the five names in the "Best of the Rest" list be new faces. Colston, Welker, and Harvin have all been in the top five before, but that was earlier in the season. Mike Wallace, Calvin Johnson, Andre Roberts, and Andre Johnson, meanwhile, each could not do enough to keep up this week (or in Megatron's case, he had a bye). It wouldn't surprise me to see this list shake up even more next week with the Saints on a bye.

Best of the Rest
2. Marques Colston: 33.42 NEP, 1.01 per catch (Last Week: #6)
3. Wes Welker: 29.11 NEP, 0.77 per catch (Last Week: #13)
4. Percy Harvin: 27.61 NEP, 0.74 per catch (Last Week: #11)
5. Demaryius Thomas: 25.52 NEP, 0.82 per catch (Last Week: #21)

Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 34.70
NEP per Catch: 0.93
Last Week: #1

At the opposite of the receivers' standings, you have the tight ends, who have now had the same top player the past four weeks and the same top five the past three weeks. There's not much else to say about Old Man Gonzalez that I have not already gone over in this space numerous times. He recorded his fifth straight game of at least five NEP this past week, and this time, he went above and beyond. His 11.63 NEP earned against the Redskins is Gonzalez's single highest total on the season and was one of the main reasons the Falcons offense was able to pull out their fifth straight victory.

It's not just tight ends that Gonzalez can be compared with, however. In terms of total NEP based on targets, Gonzalez is second among all players in the entire league, less than four NEP behind teammate Roddy White for first. He has Marques Colston covered by 1.28 NEP of value, and as is the case with Ryan, that distance may increase with the Raiders heading to the Georgia Dome this weekend. With more targets than a Texas shooting range, Gonzalez looks to be at the top of this list for a long time.

Best of the Rest
2. Owen Daniels: 26.27 NEP, 1.03 per catch (Last Week: #4)
3. Vernon Davis: 25.62 NEP, 1.12 per catch (Last Week: #2)
4. Brandon Myers: 19.16 NEP, 1.17 per catch (Last Week: #3)
5. Heath Miller: 18.09 NEP, 0.91 per catch (Last Week: #5)