MVP Watch: Gordon Going to Town

Peyton looks great, but others deserve some love as well

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 14

Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Season Passing NEP: 228.21
NEP per pass: 0.41
Last week: #1

This discussion includes stats through Week 14. The Thursday night tilt between the Broncos and Chargers is not factored in.

Peyton increased his replacement value by 52 points during his Week 13 and Week 14 contests. For some perspective, there are only 10 other quarterbacks that have totaled over 52 points all year. Peyton is in full on, you-can’t-stop-me-mode, and is almost playing like a machine. Sometimes the best defense is offense right?

In his efforts last week, the Manning Machine continued his assault on the record books. His 45 touchdowns are fifth-best in league history and only five away from tying Tom Brady’s mark from 2007 (Now, obviously this number is 47 after Thursday Night Football). Peyton has also eclipsed 4,500 passing yards. At his pace, he could come very close to breaking Drew Brees' single-season record in 2011.

While those numbers are great, consider the next level. With three games left, Peyton’s Pass NEP is only three points off of his career high, the fifth-highest NFL total since 2000, and only 31 points away from Brady’s Passing NEP record from 2007. In Peyton’s world, he could accomplish that in one game. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers – thanks for playing; good luck next year.

Playing Catch-up
2. Drew Brees: 148.74 Pass NEP, 0.27 per pass
3. Philip Rivers: 139.54 Pass NEP, 0.29 per pass
4. Russell Wilson: 82.45 Pass NEP, 0.23 per pass
5. Matthew Stafford: 74.53 Pass NEP

Running Backs: LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles
Season Rush NEP: 27.48
NEP per rush: 0.11
Last week: #2

McCoy should be praying for snow every week. Fantasy owners panicked this week with all the cold weather and snowy games, but McCoy (and Peyton) rewarded their owners who didn’t sit their studs despite bad weather. McCoy had 29 rushes on his way to 217 yards, and as we look deeper than just the common metrics, we see the Shady increased his Rush NEP by 11.66 points. To further magnify that number, there are only two other running backs that have an RNEP over 11 points, thanks the fact that running the football is far less efficient than passing.

DeMarco Murray did a lot with limited touches against the Bears this week too. Of his 18 rushing attempts, 13 of them contributed a positive gain towards the Cowboys points. However, game flow claimed another victim in Murray. The Cowboys went away from running the ball despite the Bears having the worst ranking in defending the run, when adjusted for strength of schedule. If you keep Murray going, you limit the Bears’ possessions, which could have resulted in a different outcome for the game.

Three weeks are left and three backs, Murray, McCoy, and Monster Moreno, are starting to form separation in a race that was too close to call for many weeks. Who has the best shot at coming out on top? Murray faces only one more top-10 defense against the run according to our metrics, while Moreno faces only one defense in the top 15. Shady has the edge right now, however, facing opponents all in the bottom 10 against the run, but it is still too close to call.

Playing Catch-up
2. DeMarco Murray: 24.88 Rush NEP, 0.16 per rush (last week: #1)
3. Knowshon Moreno: 17.45 Rush NEP, 0.08 per rush (last week: #4)
4. Fred Jackson: 9.59 Rush NEP, 0.06 per rush (last week: #NR)
5. Alfred Morris: 8.34 Rush NEP, 0.04 per rush (last week: #5)

Wide Receivers: Anquan Boldin – San Francisco 49ers
Season Target NEP: 68.85
Reception NEP per target: 0.91
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.

Boldin claimed the top spot for the second week in a row, but just barely over Josh Gordon. Last week we correlated his success to moving the chains for the 49ers, but having teammate Michael Crabtree back has helped as well. According to Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, Boldin has received a higher percentage (36.8%) of targets in the last two games than he had in the previous 11 games (30%). With his increased looks, a catch rate of 65%, and a Success Rate of 92.5%, Boldin just may stay near the top for a couple more weeks. His Success Rate is the key to his staying power; of his 67 receptions, Boldin has turned all but five of them into a positive gain toward his, and the 49ers’, NEP.

The Browns are supposed to be the laughingstock of the league, right? That has changed with the arrival and play of Josh Gordon. He is one of only a few receivers that are good enough to overcome turnover and poor play at quarterback. Despite missing two games, Gordon has started to enter the discussion of top receiving options in the league. He has had fewer than four catches in only two of his games, and he's topped 100 yards in eight of his 11 games this season, including two above 200 yards. Gordon’s Reception NEP per Target has risen from 0.81 in Week 9 to 0.96 in Week 14, making him one of the most efficient receivers to date. He has contributed nearly 43 points to his Target NEP during that time, with 9.63 of those points coming in his Week 14 game. Young receivers are taking the league by storm right now, and he is leading the pack.

Playing Catch-up
2. Josh Gordon: 68.72 Target NEP, 0.96 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
3. DeSean Jackson: 63.05 Target NEP, 0.87 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
4. Demaryius Thomas: 62.95 Target NEP, 0.91 Reception NEP per target (last week: #5)
5. Antonio Brown: 60.19 Target NEP, 0.76 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)

Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
Season Target NEP: 57.85
Reception NEP per target: 0.89
Last week: #1

Injuries have really held up the competition at tight end this year. Jordan Reed was staying in the top five, but after being out for the last four games, he's dropped out. Tony Gonzalez stays among the best, though Jason Witten leapfrogged him last week. Each player only had a minimal gain in Target NEP in their last matchup, so we see the same names at the top.

Playing Catch-up
2. Julius Thomas: 52.05 Target NEP, 0.95 Reception NEP per target
3. Vernon Davis: 43.46 Target NEP, 0.99 Reception NEP per target
4. Jason Witten: 41.15 Target NEP, 0.75 Reception NEP per target
5. Tony Gonzalez: 39.69 Target NEP, 0.72 Reception NEP per target