MVP Watch: The Broncos are Taking Over

After another week of football, the Broncos still dominate the MVP race.

While other sites and analyses 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 (NEP), and the various types, depending on the position.

Since common numbers such as yards, completions and touchdowns don't tell the whole story about a player, we can use 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 10 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.

Take a look below.

Top-5 NEP Performers by Position Through Week 10

Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Season Passing NEP: 167.76
NEP per pass: 0.44
Last week: #1

So while Peyton was Peyton again, Drew Brees gave a Herculean effort against the Sean Lee-less Cowboys, and Philip Rivers just watched the “Big 2” move further away. With the injury to Aaron Rodgers, we are seeing just how valuable these elite quarterbacks are.

For the rest of the season, Brees gets to face the 49ers (8th in Adj. Defensive NEP), Falcons (32nd), Seahawks (5th), Panthers twice (3rd), Rams (22nd), and Bucs (18th). Facing three top-10 defenses may make it tough for Brees to continue to make big gains on Manning. But at the same time, the Broncos face the top defense (Chiefs) twice in three weeks, the Patriots (4th), and the Titans (14th). Peyton has more favorable matchups though facing the Chargers (30th), Texans (26th) and Raiders (23rd). It will require more monster efforts by Brees, but I'm not ready to hand the award to Peyton just yet.

The fourth and fifth spot will be up for grabs as soon as Rodgers won't qualify next week if he (likely) misses his third straight game. Who jumps up? One candidate is Russell Wilson , who added 17 points to his PNEP total with the gift of facing the Falcons. While Rodgers may lose his NEP spot, I doubt we will see anyone (that qualifies) get close to Rodgers’ or anyone else’s NEP per pass, our quarterback efficiency mark.

Playing Catch Up
2. Drew Brees: 124.65 Passing NEP, 0.32 per pass (last week: #2)
3. Philip Rivers: 102.11 Passing NEP, 0.32 per pass (last week: #3)
4. Aaron Rodgers: 81.40 Passing NEP, 0.30 per pass (last week: #4)
5. Matthew Stafford: 62.46 Passing NEP, 0.18 per pass (last week: #5)

Running Backs: Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos
Season Rushing NEP: 14.35
NEP per rush: 0.12
Last week: #1

One week goes by and we have some competition for Moreno. Based upon the Broncos schedule above, Moreno might drop from the top with Alfred Morris seeing his value increase week by week. As the Redskins and RGIII continue to improve, so does Morris, nearly doubling his Rushing NEP each week from Weeks 7 through 9.

Morris won't keep doubling up his rushing effectiveness, especially since four of his five remaining games are against teams in the top 15 in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. LeSean McCoy will be there to pounce on second place, if not the top spot, since four of his last six opponents are all in the bottom quarter of the league in defending the run. Moreno may hold a lead for now, but it could change hands many times before the end of the season.

Playing Catch Up
2. Alfred Morris: 14.24 Rushing NEP, 0.09 per rush (last week: #3)
3. LeSean McCoy: 13.99 Rushing NEP, 0.07 per rush (last week: #2)
4. DeMarco Murray: 11.42 Rushing NEP, 0.10 per rush (last week: #5)
5. Fred Jackson: 8.45 Rushing NEP; 0.07 per rush (last week: NR)

Wide Receivers: DeSean Jackson - Philadelphia Eagles
Season Target NEP: 52.48
Reception NEP per target: 0.86
Last week: #1

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.

Demaryius Thomas showed why he’s Peyton’s favorite target by catching three touchdowns to go with 108 yards, his biggest game since facing the Ravens in Week 1. Thanks to an increased efficiency, DT added 10 points to his expected value against the Chargers, and is on pace for as many receptions and yards as last year while already exceeding his touchdown total (10 this year, nine last year). Thomas catches nearly everything that comes his way; he is third among receivers (with at least 35 receptions) with a catch rate of nearly 70%. His success rate is 93%; in layman terms, DT has taken 93% of those receptions and turned them into positive gains towards his, and his team's, NEP. It doesn't matter who he's facing, Peyton will get him the ball and he will make something happen.

Looking ahead, I see a steady increase in Target NEP by Thomas that would eventually put him in, and likely keep him at, the number one spot for receivers. Jackson's success rate is 10% less than Thomas', and he has shown himself as slightly less efficient per target than Thomas. Brandon Marshall has close to the same success rate (88%) as DT, but shows even less efficiency than Jackson. If Jordy Nelson had more consistent quarterback play, he could give Demaryius a run for his money; his positive contributions aren't as high of a percentage (87%) as Thomas, but he has been more efficient on a per target basis. If Rodgers comes back in the next couple of weeks, it could very well come down to those two receivers.

Playing Catch Up
2. Demaryius Thomas: 44.78 Target NEP, 0.92 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
3. Brandon Marshall: 38.77 Target NEP, 0.81 Reception NEP per target (last week: NR)
4. Jordy Nelson: 33.72 Target NEP, 0.99 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
5. Jerricho Cotchery: 36.48 Target NEP, 1.25 Reception NEP per target (last week: NR)

Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham - New Orleans Saints
Season Target NEP: 48.37
NEP per target: 0.98
Last week: #1

This is basically Graham's award to lose. The other Thomas on the Broncos closed the gap in overall value compared to Graham, thanks to a 74-yard reception, but unless Graham produces another goose egg, there is no slowing him down.

Thomas and Jordan Reed are two similar players in terms of production. They aren't necessarily the first option in their passing game, but they showcase their talents when they do get the ball, together accumulating 12 touchdowns and just over 1,000 yards receiving. They are truly doing more with less when you see their success rate at 83% and 89%, respectively. Because Reed doesn't have to compete with three other talented receivers, I could see him taking over the number two spot before the season is over if his touchdown production increases.

Playing Catch Up
2. Julius Thomas: 46.51 Target NEP, 1.00 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
3. Jordan Reed: 39.40 Target NEP, 0.95 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
4. Jordan Cameron: 31.15 Target NEP, 0.81 Reception NEP per target (last week: #5)
5. Tony Gonzalez: 31.13 Target NEP, 0.77 Reception NEP per target (last week: NR)