MVP Watch: The NFL's Top Positional Performers (Week 8)

Three weeks, three different leaders in the MVP Race. Who is it this week? I bet the Rams could tell you.

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, we laugh at that one crazy time that Math got drunk and told us Big Ben was the leading MVP Candidate. Instead, we put a new, but familiar, name at the top this week.

Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 7

Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers
Season Total NEP: 93.65
NEP per Pass: 0.29
Last Week: #5

Two weeks ago, Aaron Rodgers had 37.19 NEP through five games. That was good for 24th in the league right below Demaryius Thomas, and 11th among QBs right below Andy Dalton and Alex Smith. But now? He's your MVP through seven weeks, baby.

For those of you who can't do the quick math, Aaron Rodgers has gotten the Packers an incredible 56.46 NEP in the last two weeks alone. That means that against the Texans and the Rams - who mind you, are both in the top half of league opponent-adjusted defenses - Aaron Rodgers contributed an average of over four touchdowns to his team over the average replacement player. That's MVP-worthy if I do say so myself.

Granted, he has played one more game played than some of the guys below him, including #2 Drew Brees. But if he can keep his torrid pace against the Jaguars and the Cardinals in the next two weeks, his NEP lead may become insurmountable. Plus, if there was a category for "How many commercials are you in?" bonus points, Rodgers would be streaking ahead of even Peyton at this point.

Best of the Rest
2. Drew Brees: 82.97 NEP, 0.29 per pass (Last Week: #N/A)
3. Tom Brady: 82.70 NEP, 0.26 per pass (Last Week: #3)
4. Ben Roethlisberger: 77.13 NEP, 0.30 per pass (Last Week: #1)
5. Robert Griffin III: 74.04 NEP, 0.17 per pass, 0.68 per rush (Last Week: #4)

Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Rushing NEP: 18.93
NEP per Rush: 0.18
Last Week: #2

That was a fun one-week stay at the top of the charts for Ray Rice. But the Spiller-mobile cannot be denied.

He continues to hang right around my 10 touches per game cutoff (he's at exactly 13 per game this week), but in the opportunities he's been given, he's been absolutely spectacular. His 0.18 NEP per rush ranks second among all running backs with at least ten carries; Andre Brown of the Giants is barely ahead with 0.19 NEP per rush in 44 attempts. Spiller has seen a bit of the pass-catching bug that's been going around NFL running backs as well, as he caught all six of the balls Ryan Fitzpatrick threw his way against Tennessee this past week.

The Buffalo Bills continue to platoon Spiller with Fred "Mr. -0.29 NEP per Rush" Jackson, but against the Titans, the strategy actually seems to have worked. Jackson actually gained an incredible 8.12 NEP of value for the Bills this past week, primarily through rushing the ball, while Spiller gained 1.18 NEP himself.

Best of the Rest
2. Ray Rice: 14.87 NEP, 0.03 per rush, 0.29 per catch (Last Week: #1)
3. Frank Gore: 13.41 NEP, 0.09 per rush, 0.23 per catch (Last Week: #4)
4. Willis McGahee: 3.86 NEP, -0.02 per rush, 0.26 per catch (Last Week: #5)
5. Matt Forte: 2.68 NEP, -0.06 per rush, 0.35 per catch (Last Week: #3)

Wide Receivers: Roddy White - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 44.22
NEP per Catch: 1.07
Last Week: #1

We warned about it last week, and it's come to fruition: Roddy White had just too big of a lead to be overtaken during his bye week. His 7.37 NEP per game is miles ahead of most other players (only Randall Cobb and Marques Colston have squeezed over the seven NEP per game mark), and he has a conducive Philadelphia-Dallas-New Orleans stretch upcoming.

The main shock in this week's top five, though, is the strength of that Packers receiving corps. I have railed against the inability to know who is going to break out from Green Bay for fantasy-purposes, but for game purposes, having multitudes of talented receivers seems to be doing the Packers well.

Randall Cobb is the main breakout star of that Packers receiving corps. His current 86% catch rate is on pace to set a record for wide receivers with a significant number of catches. And although he has only scored three of the Packers' 20 receiving touchdowns, he has found an ability to get open deep; his six 20+ yard catches are tied for the most on the team.

Best of the Rest
2. Randall Cobb: 42.58 NEP, 1.10 per catch (Last Week: #5)
3. Percy Harvin: 40.50 NEP, 0.82 per catch (Last Week: #2)
4. Wes Welker: 40.06 NEP, 0.80 per catch (Last Week: #3)
5. Jordy Nelson: 38.05 NEP, 0.96 per catch (Last Week: #N/A)

Tight Ends: Owen Daniels - Houston Texans
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 35.57
NEP per Catch: 0.92
Last Week: #2

Down with Old Man Gonzalez! Old Man Gonzalez is no more! (At least until next week, when he comes off his bye.)

But for now, the Texans' Owen Daniels gets a turn at the top of the charts, the first non-Tony Gonzalez tight end to claim the top spot all season. It's not hard to see why Daniels is here either: his four touchdowns lead one of the league's most proficient offenses, he has an above-average 68.8% catch rate, and his 33 receptions are tied for third among all tight ends (behind Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski). This past week was an especially big boost, with Daniels catching seven passes (a 70% catch rate) and a touchdown against the Ravens.

The Texans go on a bye this week, and it's extremely likely that Old Man Gonzalez will claim his crown once again - Gonzalez has registered at least six NEP in five of his six games this year. But don't discredit the season the Texans' tight end is having. He's a big reason why Houston is numberFire's #7 offense in opponent-adjusted efficiency so far this season.

Best of the Rest
2. Tony Gonzalez: 32.67 NEP, 0.88 per catch (Last Week: #1)
3. Rob Gronkowski: 27.33 NEP, 0.78 per catch (Last Week: #N/A)
4. Brandon Myers: 25.51 NEP, 0.89 per catch (Last Week: #5)
5. Vernon Davis: 24.81 NEP, 0.98 per catch (Last Week: #3)