MVP Watch: The NFL's Top Positional Performers (Week 11)

After Matt Ryan's 5 INT failure, Tom Brady rises up to reassume the crown.

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, Tom Brady looks poised to make a run for MVP #3.

Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 11

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady - New England Patriots
Season Total NEP: 146.41
NEP per Pass: 0.35
Last Week: #3

In the case of the NEP numbers, one weak game often isn't enough to sabotage your entire season. The numbers are not fickle like that; everything is placed into its proper context. The only way you could successfully harpoon an MVP season would be something completely out of context and atrocious... like a zero touchdown, five interception game against Arizona. -13.60 NEP later, and I hope you enjoyed your stay in the top spot, Matty Ice.

Brady, meanwhile, vaulted up the standings with one of the single best games numberFire has seen this season. Brady's 331 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and perhaps most crucially big play situations (he went seven for ten on third-down throws, including three conversions of more than eight yards) allowed him to rack up just shy of 30 points above value in this game alone for New England. This race is slowly turning into a two-horse breakaway, with Brees and Brady steady at the front of the field.

Best of the Rest
2. Drew Brees: 141.70 NEP, 0.34 per pass (Last Week: #2)
3. Aaron Rodgers: 117.75 NEP, 0.26 per pass (Last Week: #4)
4. Matt Ryan: 114.08 NEP, 0.26 per pass (Last Week: #3)
5. Matt Schaub: 104.32 NEP, 0.31 per pass (Last Week: #9)

Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Total NEP: 27.85
NEP per Rush: 0.12
Last Week: #1

It happened. With receiving a full slate of carries this week, C.J. Spiller's NEP per rush rating dropped from 0.20 to 0.12, and his total performance finished 2.32 points under expectation for the Bills. Commence Chicken Little-ing, the sky is truly falling if we can no longer trust in C.J. Spiller.

So maybe that was a slight exaggeration; Spiller has still added more value to his team than any other single running back with at least ten touches per game. And really, it's not even close. Doug Martin would need another historic game at this point to even catch Spiller's scent, and the crowd directly behind him doesn't stand a chance. The only way Spiller does not end up in this spot at the end of the season is if he regresses to the crowd, rather than the crowd catching him. I'm skeptical; perhaps this would be a good time to mention that the Bills face the Colts and Jaguars the next two weeks.

Best of the Rest
2. Doug Martin: 11.43 NEP, -0.04 per rush, 0.48 per catch (Last Week: #2)
3. Ray Rice: 11.37 NEP, -0.06 per rush, 0.40 per catch (Last Week: #4)
4. Frank Gore: 11.25 NEP, 0.04 per rush, 0.22 per catch (Last Week: #3)
5. Adrian Peterson: 8.75 NEP, 0.03 per rush, 0.08 per catch (Last Week: #5)

Wide Receivers: Calvin Johnson - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 61.98
NEP per Catch: 0.96
Last Week: #3

Last week, I refrained from calling Roddy White's lead insurmountable, but I insinuated that it would take a monumental effort to knock him off the top spot heading into Week 12. Or shall I say, it took a Megatron effort.

143 yards and a touchdown later, Calvin Johnson sits on top of our receiving charts for the first time this season. Despite only catching five of 11 targets against the Packers, Johnson's above-average 61% catch rate on the season remains solid enough to allow his inconceivable yardage (averaging over 100 per game) and big play (24 catches of 20+ yards) statistics to fully take hold.

But he couldn't have gotten to the top without some help, and this past week, Roddy White kindly obliged. Although White finished the game with eight catches for 123 yards, two of Matt Ryan's five interceptions were passes White's way, which drops his NEP score based on targets. Passes to White lowered Atlanta's expected point value by over three NEP on the game.

Best of the Rest
2. Roddy White: 56.68 NEP, 0.98 per catch (Last Week: #1)
3. Demaryius Thomas: 56.02 NEP, 0.91 per catch (Last Week: #2)
4. Brandon Marshall: 52.17 NEP, 0.89 per catch (Last Week: #4)
5. Vincent Jackson: 51.42 NEP, 1.06 per catch (Last Week: #5)

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 57.71
NEP per Catch: 1.00
Last Week: #2

Well, that was a short and insignificant stay for Tony Gonzalez at the top of the charts this time. After letting Old Man Gonzalez take the reigns for one week, Gronkowski returns to the top for tight ends for the third time in four weeks. But not only is he near the top for tight ends this time; Rob Gronkowski's 57.71 points above expectation for the Patriots ranks second among all receivers as well, behind only Megatron in Detroit. But if you think New England fans are celebrating, you haven't seen the injury report for this week - New England will need to replace almost an extra touchdown per game worth of production with Gronkowski out of the lineup.

If you're looking for the best tight end candidate to replace Gronkowski at the top of the list, it might be best to look at a name who has come on strong after early season struggles... that occurred directly after being taken with Gronkowski at the top of fantasy drafts. As recently as three weeks ago, Jimmy Graham sat in the middle of the pack among tight ends. But in Week 10, he rose from 14th to fifth in the overall rankings. This past week, he rose from fifth to third. And he now sits only one strong game behind Tony Gonzalez, just over a touchdown (7.46 NEP) from striking distance. New Orleans has a tough matchup against San Francisco this week, but that should create even higher upside for Graham, as the expected NEP contribution on any particular play should be low for New Orleans against a stronger defense.

Best of the Rest
2. Tony Gonzalez: 44.96 NEP, 0.84 per catch (Last Week: #1)
3. Jimmy Graham: 37.50 NEP, 0.83 per catch (Last Week: #5)
4. Heath Miller: 34.92 NEP, 0.84 per catch (Last Week: #4)
5. Owen Daniels: 33.97 NEP, 0.80 per catch (Last Week: #3)