MVP Watch: The NFL's Top Positional Performers (Week 12)

With five weeks left, Tom Brady might be running away with the MVP Award.

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 holds down the top spot, but Matt Ryan makes a comeback.

Top NFL Performances by NEP Through Week 12

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady - New England Patriots
Season Total NEP: 171.43
NEP per Pass: 0.37
Last Week: #1

This is beginning to not even be close. With an incredible 25 NEP of value earned for the Patriots against the Jets on Thanksgiving, Tom Brady has pulled miles ahead of any competitor in the MVP race. Really, it's not the surprising, but the level of his efficiency is astounding. Here's a quick trivia question: We're 11 games into the season. Without looking, guess how many interceptions Tom Brady has. I'll wait... so, what was your answer? Was it three or lower? Because that's all that Tom Brady has thrown so far this season; the only other quarterback to have started all 11 games and have less than seven interceptions is RGIII.

And in speaking of Black Jesus, the rookie makes a return to our top five after leading the Redskins to victory over the Cowboys. Just how good has RGIII been, especially on the ground? Despite defenses knowing that he can take off at any moment, 59.8% of his rush attempts have been successful in increasing Washington's chance of scoring. For comparison's sake, Michael Vick's career-high success rate rushing the ball is 59.3% in 2010.

Best of the Rest
2. Matt Ryan: 131.03 NEP, 0.27 per pass (Last Week: #4)
3. Drew Brees: 125.55 NEP, 0.27 per pass (Last Week: #2)
4. Robert Griffin III: 118.34 NEP, 0.21 per pass, 0.52 per rush (Last Week: #--)
5. Peyton Manning: 115.56 NEP, 0.21 per pass (Last Week: #--)

Running Backs: C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
Season Total NEP: 27.34
NEP per Rush: 0.11
Last Week: #1

Spiller lost a tiny bit of value for the Bills this past weekend, but only suffering a 0.5 NEP drop is nowhere near enough to have C.J. take a spill from the top spot. Considering his Week 12, it's tough to imagine why he even suffered a drop at all; he finished the day with 107 rushing yards on 14 carries, a 7.6 yards per carry average. The tiny dip likely comes from his receiving stats: Ryan Fitzpatrick threw his way three times, and he came out with one catch and -4 yards receiving overall.

Maybe Doug Martin should have taken a cue from Spiller. Despite being in second among all running backs last week, the Tampa back lost 2.19 NEP of value this past week against New Orleans. While Martin didn't have his worst day - he did finish with two touchdowns, after all - the analytics expected better than a 2.4 yards per carry average. The Atlanta defense is one of only six defensive units to have given up more NEP rushing (6.52) than the league-average play.

Best of the Rest
2. Ray Rice: 15.26 NEP, -0.07 per rush, 0.44 per catch (Last Week: #3)
3. Frank Gore: 12.61 NEP, 0.03 per rush, 0.29 per catch (Last Week: #4)
4. Doug Martin: 9.24 NEP, -0.05 per rush, 0.48 per catch (Last Week: #2)
5. Stevan Ridley: 3.37 NEP, 0.01 per rush, 0.10 per catch (Last Week: #6)

Wide Receivers: Calvin Johnson - Atlanta Falcons
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 68.96
NEP per Catch: 0.94
Last Week: #1

Continuing his absolute tear into any defense that stands in his way, Megatron remains atop the charts this week. Against the Houston secondary, not even eating an entire turducken could have slowed down his eight catch, 140 yard day. Surprisingly, Johnson only gained about seven NEP of value for Detroit - a 47% catch rate on the day will do that. But he still maintains enough of a lead to keep him the clear #1 over Demaryius Thomas.

But on the opposite end of the spectrum, Roddy White continues his freefall down the charts. After being in Calvin Johnson's position just three weeks ago, with a seemingly insurmountable lead, the Falcons receiver just seemingly can't come through in the clutch. His catch rate was a perfectly average 5-for-7, and he managed 57 yards receiving, but he actually lost the Falcons 0.4 NEP of value due to the situations where his catches and non-catches occurred.

Best of the Rest
2. Demaryius Thomas: 62.09 NEP, 0.93 per catch (Last Week: #3)
3. Andre Johnson: 60.51 NEP, 0.92 per catch (Last Week: #--)
4. Vincent Jackson: 59.15 NEP, 1.07 per catch (Last Week: #5)
5. Roddy White: 56.28 NEP, 0.96 per catch (Last Week: #2)

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski - New England Patriots
Season Total NEP (based on targets): 57.71
NEP per Catch: 1.00
Last Week: #1

You know you have a big lead when you're injured for a week, and there is still only one other tight end barely within a touchdown of your NEP total. Gronkowski was just that good before getting injured. But don't be surprised next week if Gonzalez rises back up to the throne he held for much of the early part of the season; his five catch day on five targets gained the Falcons 6.94 NEP of value against Tampa Bay.

For me, the most surprising part of the tight end standings is that name you see at #4: Jermaine Gresham. Mired out of the top ten just a few short weeks ago, Gresham has seen increased targets over the past couple weeks and fully taken advantage of them. Dating back to Week 9 against the Broncos, Cincinnati's first game after their bye, Gresham has averaged six Andy Dalton targets per game, and he hasn't recorded lower than a 75% catch rate in a single one of those contests.

Best of the Rest
2. Tony Gonzalez: 51.90 NEP, 0.87 per catch (Last Week: #2)
3. Heath Miller: 37.94 NEP, 0.81 per catch (Last Week: #4)
4. Jermaine Gresham: 35.92 NEP, 0.82 per catch (Last Week: #--)
5. Owen Daniels: 33.54 NEP, 0.75 per catch (Last Week: #5)