MVP Watch: A Boldin Statement

Hold on tight for an exciting finish in the running back and receiver categories.

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: 203.72
NEP per pass: 0.41
Last week: #1

I remember looking at the first half stats of the Broncos vs. Chiefs matchup last week and thinking that the race between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees would be even closer this week due to Peyton’s two interceptions. When I looked in after the game, lo and behold, Peyton threw for three more touchdowns (five total) and didn’t turn the ball over again in the second half. The result: the biggest margin in this MVP race with a 73-point Passing NEP lead, and the first player to exceed 200.

As for the rest of the quarterbacks, take a look below:

Drew Brees: Plummeting. Brees contributed a negative point total towards the Saints efforts (-12.77) after facing the best defense in the league on Monday night. Carolina is number two among defenses when adjusting for strength of schedule; the Saints draw Carolina twice in the next three weeks. Brees is in danger of finishing third on this list if he keeps these performances up.

Philip Rivers: Mercurial. Rivers contributed over 21 points to the Chargers against the Chiefs and then went out and contributed -1.72 points against the Bengals. Both teams are in the top five overall and in Pass Defense NEP. Rivers is hard to trust on a week to week basis.

Russell Wilson: Over-hyped. Wilson probably doesn't belong in MVP conversations despite many saying he should. We made a case against Wilson earlier this week (here).

Matthew Stafford: Silence. Little increases or decreases in his PNEP each week, but not enough to make you notice much. He gets it done with one of the best receivers in the league, but not much else.

Tom Brady: Sizzling. Brady has averaged a 12.23-point contribution to the Patriots over the last five games. Remember, he had a negative Passing NEP after Week 8. A healthy team can do wonders for a quarterback. If we extrapolated that average over the whole season, Brady would be number two on this list right now.

Playing Catch Up
2. Drew Brees: 130.50 Passing NEP, 0.26 per pass (last week: #2)
3. Philip Rivers: 123.88 Passing NEP, 0.27 per pass (last week: #3)
4. Russell Wilson: 78.44 Passing NEP, 0.23 per pass (last week: #5)
5. Matthew Stafford: 63.56 Passing NEP, 0.14 per pass (last week: #4)

Running Backs: DeMarco Murray – Dallas Cowboys
Season Rushing NEP: 17.31
NEP per rush: 0.12
Last week: #3

One spot in our top five was pillaged by a newcomer, and the top spot was taken by another star.

Of course I'm talking about Adrian Peterson and DeMarco Murray. While the Cardinals lived up to their billing and made Shady look like an average running back, we had a big shuffle in our top five. Like I expected, McCoy was not very effective, contributing only 0.57 points to the Eagles win. Despite the minimal Rush NEP gain for McCoy, he was able to maintain the second spot in the rankings.

Murray snacked on the Raiders defense with short touchdown runs, three in all. Despite only 68 yards, he had a success rate of 53%, basically turning half of his attempts into positive contributions for the team. AP turned a similar percentage of his 35 runs into positive contributions as well, on his way to a 216-yard day. The Chicago Bears are the worst defense in the league against the run when adjusting for strength of schedule; but still, a 9.66 gain in Rushing NEP is a monstrous effort for anyone. It's nice to finally see "All Day" enter our top five. If he only had an actual quarterback.

Playing Catch Up
2. LeSean McCoy: 15:81 Rushing NEP, 0.07 per rush (last week: #2)
3. Adrian Peterson: 10.94 Rushing NEP, 0.04 per rush (last week: NR)
4. Knowshon Moreno: 10.69 Rushing NEP, 0.05 per rush (last week: #1)
5. Alfred Morris: 11.43 Rushing NEP, 0.06 per rush (last week: #4)

Wide Receivers: Anquan Boldin - San Francisco 49ers
Season Target NEP: 62.98
Reception NEP per Target: 0.91
Last week: #3

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.

In any normal week, it would be great to see Boldin's Target NEP gain (11.00 points) and fawn over his performance. But his solid game was overshadowed by Alshon Jeffery, Josh Gordon and Eric Decker. Each of those three receivers added at least 15 points to their Target NEP in Week 13, more than any other player at the position.

It's rather surprising to see Boldin in the top spot at the position at this point in the season, but much of it has to do with his ability to catch the ball in tight coverage and making clutch grabs. Boldin has 44 first downs on his 96 targets this year, which is one of the best rates among the best, most-relevant receivers in the game. The reason he's not more of an asset in fantasy is because his team has the second-lowest pass-to-run ratio in the entire league - volume just isn't there. That's also why he'll never be thought of as one of the more elite 2013 receivers.

We shouldn't necessarily expect him to finish on top at the end of the season, but for now, Boldin sits atop the Target NEP ranks.

Playing Catch Up
2. Josh Gordon: 59.10 Target NEP, 0.94 Reception NEP per target (last week: NR)
3. DeSean Jackson: 58.36 Target NEP, 0.86 Reception NEP per target (last week: #1)
4. Antonio Brown: 56.77 Target NEP, 0.75 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
5. Demaryius Thomas: 55.31, 0.90 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)

Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
Season Target NEP: 53.93
NEP per target: 0.90
Last week: #1

You know you have a big lead in a category when you can face the top defense in the league, have a negative contribution (-2.81 Target NEP) toward your team's NEP, and still be at the top spot of your position. Julius Thomas even stood firm at the second spot despite not playing against the Chiefs.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if Tony Gonzalez can take advantage of Graham's schedule, as Graham is going up against the Panthers two of the next three weeks. Even if he survives those contests, Gonzalez happens to be part of the fourth-best offense in the league right now - he could easily add to his Target NEP as he faces the Packers and Redskins over the next two weeks, making this race at least a little interesting.

Playing Catch Up
2. Julius Thomas: 50.21 Target NEP, 1.02 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
3. Tony Gonzalez: 40.66 Target NEP, 0.75 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)
4. Jordan Reed: 40.27 Target NEP, 0.95 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
5. Vernon Davis: 39.47 Target NEP, 0.97 Reception NEP per target (last week: NR)