MVP Watch: Brees is Heating Up

Position races are heating up with five weeks left in the season.

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 12 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 12

Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Season Passing NEP: 176.06
NEP per pass: 0.38
Last week: #1

For everything Manning gained against the Chiefs defense, he almost lost against the Patriots. Manning was only able to tally 150 yards and two scores to go along with an interception against a Patriots pass defense that was fifth-best in the league going into their epic matchup.

Was part of the down performance due to the massive rushing attack the Broncos mounted? Possibly, but an eight-point drop in Passing NEP means Manning wasn't playing smart on the field and made plenty of poor decisions. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers were right there to take advantage, adding suspense to an otherwise lackluster race.

Brees didn't pass for five touchdowns and 400 yards as many expected against the Flightless Falcons last Thursday, but by avoiding turnovers, Brees contributed 13 points to his Passing NEP, a little above his average per week.

Philip Rivers did what no one else could do this year last week. He not only led the Chargers to a victory over the Chiefs, but did it in style, throwing for 392 yards and three touchdowns. Rivers exceeded the usual output against the Chiefs, boosting his PNEP by 21 points. It was a much needed performance for a Chargers team that's still in the hunt.

Playing Catch Up
2. Drew Brees: 143.27 Passing NEP, 0.31 per pass (last week: #2)
3. Philip Rivers: 125.60 Passing NEP, 0.30 per pass (last week: #3)
4. Matthew Stafford: 63.56 Passing NEP, 0.13 per pass (last week: #4)
5. Russell Wilson: 57.43 Passing NEP, 0.19 per pass (last week: #5)

Running Backs: Knowshon Moreno – Denver Broncos
Season Rushing NEP: 16.67
NEP per rush: 0.09
Last week: #3

Knowshon will now be known as "Monster Moreno." His 224-yard performance was his first game over 100 rushing yards this season, his second best average per attempt (6.1), and his highest usage (37 attempts). Going to the next level, Monster Moreno contributed over seven points to his Rushing NEP against a Pats defense that ranked 25th in Adjusted Defensive RNEP going into the game. It shouldn't have been a surprise that Moreno would do well, but I don't think anyone expected this type of game.

Forte went in the opposite direction after I expected him to jump into the top five this week. He lost four points off of his RNEP as he faced the 11th-ranked defense against the run. Three of Forte’s last five games are against teams that are 22nd or worse against the run, which should open up some opportunities for him to jump back into the race.

The bye weeks are finally over and this race isn't even close to over. Can Moreno keep things going against the Chiefs? He saw high usage in Week 11 against them, a run defense that ranks in the middle of the league. Given Kansas City's front seven injuries, he could have room to run. Either way, Moreno should hold on to the top spot for at least another week as LeSean McCoy faces the sixth-best defense against the run in Arizona.

Playing Catch Up
2. LeSean McCoy: 15:24 Rushing NEP, 0.07 per rush (last week: #1)
3. DeMarco Murray: 12.99 Rushing NEP, 0.10 per rush (last week: #3)
4. Alfred Morris: 11.43 Rushing NEP, 0.06 per rush (last week: #2)
5. Fred Jackson: 7.51 Rushing NEP; 0.05 per rush (last week: #5)

Wide Receivers: DeSean Jackson - Philadelphia Eagles
Season Target NEP: 59.44
Reception NEP per target: 0.90
Last week: #1

Don’t forget: 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.

DeSean was nice enough to take the week off to let the other guys catch up with him, but Demaryius Thomas didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, leaving the door open for two other guys.

Antonio Brown was there for another nice performance despite going against Joe Haden, one of the better cover corners in the league. By turning his six receptions (on 10 targets) into 92 yards and a touchdown, Brown jumped into second place in the receiver rankings. Game flow doesn’t seem to affect this elite receiver, so there is no reason Brown can’t win this award; someone has to win something in Pittsburgh this year, right?

We also have a returning player entering the top five, as Anquan Boldin saw an 11 point jump in his Target NEP, helping the 49ers get back to their winning ways. The Niners may have to open up their passing game more as the playoff race gets heated, and Boldin could continue to see his contributions increase. With Boldin converting over 92% of his opportunities into positive gains for his NEP, Kaepernick could be looking his way often over the next few weeks.

Playing Catch Up
2. Antonio Brown: 53.11 Target NEP, 0.76 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3))
3. Anquan Boldin: 51.98 Target NEP, 0.90 Reception NEP per target (last week: NR)
4. Demaryius Thomas: 49.49 Target NEP, 0.87 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
5. Brandon Marshall: 46.32 Target NEP, 0.77 Reception NEP per target (last week: NR)

Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
Season Target NEP: 56.74
NEP per target: 0.93
Last week: #2

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Despite injuries for Orange Julius and Jordan Reed, they remain in the top three among all tight ends in this fake MVP race. Tony Gonzalez didn't do much against a tough Saints pass defense (fourth-best pass defense), and Jason Witten is now looking to challenge the bottom of this group.

This award continues to be surprisingly close, but mostly due to the number of injuries to the athletic tight ends across the league.

Playing Catch Up
2. Julius Thomas: 50.21 Target NEP, 1.02 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
3. Jordan Reed: 40.27 Target NEP, 0.95 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
4. Tony Gonzalez: 35.92 Target NEP, 0.73 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)
5. Jason Witten: 35.25 Target NEP, 0.72 Reception NEP per target (last week: #5)