MVP Watch: The NFL's Top Positional Performers (Week 10)

Do the Falcons have a monopoly on the league's top performers? Not quite, but it's close...

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, the Dirty Birds are rising again.

Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 10

Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP: 127.68
NEP per Pass: 0.33
Last Week: #1

Afro Samurai keeps his title; Ryan outdueled Drew Brees to maintain the number one spot on our rankings. But it wasn't easy: in that 31-27 shootout, both Ryan and Brees added around three touchdowns worth of expected value to their teams. Ryan will have to play exceptional to keep that spot, though: the Falcons play the tough Cardinals defense while the Saints play the Raiders' open wound of a secondary.

After last week's close top five, it looks like Ryan and Brees are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Brady performed admirably, but only added just over 10 points of expectation to the Patriots. Rodgers of course was on a bye, and Manning just seems to be too far behind at this point to catch up without a few spectacular performances that we have not seen from him so far this season.

Best of the Rest
2. Drew Brees: 123.67 NEP, 0.32 per pass (Last Week: #2)
3. Tom Brady: 116.58 NEP, 0.30 per pass (Last Week: #4)
4. Aaron Rodgers: 105.76 NEP, 0.25 per pass (Last Week: #3)
5. Peyton Manning: 103.97 NEP, 0.30 per pass (Last Week: #5)

Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Rushing NEP: 30.17
NEP per Rush: 0.20
Last Week: #1

C.J. Spiller remains atop the charts once again, but how long will he stay? Spiller's split back status has helped him so far this year; having Fred Jackson also take a sizable portion of the carries has allowed Spiller to be much more effective in his limited action. With already ruled out for Week 11, however, Spiller will be the one and only star of the backfield for the Bills this weekend. It will allow him to stay above the 10 touches a game threshold, but I wouldn't be surprised if his total NEP and insanely high NEP per rush average dropped a bit. However, I also said that back in Week 2...

The big story here may not be a guy even on this list, but rather the absolute collapse of Matt Forte. Last week, he registered third directly behind Doug Martin. But his 16 carry, 39 yard outing against the Texans actually lost the Bears nearly 10 points of expected value, 10 points that really would have come in handy in a 13-6 defeat. He's now not even in the top ten among running backs and is averaging a middling -0.05 NEP per rush.

Best of the Rest
2. Doug Martin: 16.37 NEP, -0.02 per rush, 0.55 per catch (Last Week: #2)
3. Frank Gore: 13.22 NEP, 0.06 per rush, 0.22 per catch (Last Week: #5)
4. Ray Rice: 12.21 NEP, -0.03 per rush, 0.33 per catch (Last Week: #4)
5. Adrian Peterson: 8.75 NEP, 0.03 per rush, 0.08 per catch (Last Week: #6)

Wide Receivers: Roddy White - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 60.21
NEP per Catch: 1.03
Last Week: #1

Another week, another instance of Roddy White topping our wide receiver charts. Ho hum. White's game looked effective - his seven catches and 114 yards about equaled his Week 10 output - but going against numberFire's No. 32 opponent-adjusted defense, he only picked up about two points over what the average receiver would be expected to pick up for the Falcons offense. But in the end, it doesn't matter; entering Week 11, he still has a tough-to-surmount 5.61 NEP lead over second-place Demaryius Thomas.

The guy that intrigues me on this week's list is a guy we haven't seen in the top five yet this season: Vincent Jackson. I've spent plenty of time bemoaning Jackson's hands, and it looks like 2012 is a repeat offender: his 46.8% catch rate is the worst of any receiver in the Top 15 by over ten percentage points. (Strangely enough, the only comparable player is teammate Mike Williams, who comes in at No. 20 on the WR list with a 52.5% catch rate.) However, he's done enough with the balls he's actually caught to warrant a mention as a top receiver; his 1.06 NEP per reception is far and away the best of any NFL player with a substantial amount of playing time, including Roddy White.

Best of the Rest
2. Demaryius Thomas: 54.60 NEP, 0.94 per catch (Last Week: #4)
3. Calvin Johnson: 52.39 NEP, 0.92 per catch (Last Week: #7)
4. Brandon Marshall: 50.24 NEP, 0.89 per catch (Last Week: #2)
5. Vincent Jackson: 47.00 NEP, 1.06 per catch (Last Week: #6)

Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 45.17
NEP per Catch: 0.85
Last Week: #3

The King has returned! All hail the King! After a few weeks of the usurpers Daniels and Gronkowski taking their turns on the throne, Tony Gonzalez returns to the perch he occupied during the first seven weeks of this season. 11 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns will do that for you quite nicely. He singlehandedly added nearly ten points over expectation for the Falcons against the Saints, not a bad total for a tight end.

But a person to watch out for rising up the charts is Gonzalez's tight end counterpart from this past Tuesday: Jimmy Graham. He hasn't been in the top five for a while due to a lower-than-normal catch rate, but over the past two weeks, Graham has been targeted 19 times and caught 15 of those passes for two of his best statistical games of the season. The fire's beginning to rage again; I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the top three in another couple of weeks.

Best of the Rest
2. Rob Gronkowski: 42.67 NEP, 0.88 per catch (Last Week: #1)
3. Owen Daniels: 37.27 NEP, 0.88 per catch (Last Week: #2)
4. Heath Miller: 33.97 NEP, 0.85 per catch (Last Week: #5)
5. Jimmy Graham: 33.66 NEP, 0.85 per catch (Last Week: #14)