MVP Watch: Despite His Injury, Is Rob Gronkowski the League's Best Tight End?

We're now halfway through the regular season, and it's time to look at which players deserve some MVP votes.

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 individually 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 at who the true MVPs are in the NFL through eight weeks.

Top-5 NEP Performers by Position Through Week 8

Quarterback: Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Season Passing NEP: 113.03
NEP per pass: 0.43
Last week: #3

Is it really any surprise that Manning is leading the pack of quarterbacks after eight weeks? While we didn't expect another 55-touchdown year, we shouldn't be shocked to see that he's still on the top of the mountain. However, it's the first time that Manning has been the top quarterback within our Passing NEP metric since Week 2.

The honor of topping numberFire's Passing NEP the past five weeks has either belonged to Andrew Luck or Philip Rivers, depending on the hotter hand. Rivers has finished in the Passing NEP top 10 in six of his eight weeks of play, and four of those were top-5 finishes. Luck has been slightly more consistent across the board, but only has four top-10 finishes with two of them being top five finishes in Passing NEP.

However you look at it, Luck, Manning, and Rivers are all playing at a high level and look to be separating from the rest of the pack already. Rivers and Manning are doing well thanks to their efficiency, and Luck just keeps piling up the volume to stay at his level. If Manning wants to repeat as numberFire's top quarterback, it won't be easy.

Playing Catch Up
2. Andrew Luck: 107.84 Passing NEP, 0.30 per pass (last week: #1)
3. Philip Rivers: 106.79 Passing NEP, 0.38 per pass (last week: #2)
4. Aaron Rodgers: 76.64 Passing NEP, 0.28 per pass (last week: #5)
5. Tony Romo: 69.36 Passing NEP, 0.27 per pass (last week: #4)

Running Back: Justin Forsett – Baltimore Ravens
Season Rushing NEP: 13.89
NEP per rush: 0.13
Last week: #1

Note: Running backs evaluated are backs who have carried the ball at least 70 times this season. This will then exclude backs such as Mark Ingram, who have missed extended time on the field, or Bilal Powell, who only totes the rock three or four times a game. Running backs are also being evaluated solely on their performance running the ball, not catching the ball.

No, that isn't a misprint - Justin Forsett is leading the way in terms of Rushing NEP, and has been since Week 3. He also happened to be the second-best back in the league during the first two weeks of the season.

So why isn't DeMarco Murray - arguably the best back in the league this year - leading the way? That's the beauty of the Rushing NEP metric. Yards are good, but exceeding expectation each play is better. Turnovers affect a players' performance too, and Murray has hurt himself with five fumbles already this season, a big reason that four of his games were below expectation.

It's important to note that Forsett more than likely wouldn't be able to handle the workload of a Murray or Arian Foster, so that certainly plays a huge role in deciding which running back is "best" this year. You'd have to say Murray is. But Forsett, through it all, has proven to be a very, very effective runner this season.

Playing Catch Up
2. Chris Ivory: 11.01 Rushing NEP, 0.11 per rush (last week: #2)
3. Arian Foster: 9.38 Rushing NEP, 0.06 per rush (last week: #3)
4. Le'Veon Bell: 8.65 Rushing NEP, 0.06 per rush (last week: #13)
5. DeMarco Murray: 8.34 Rushing NEP, 0.04 per rush (last week: #9)

Wide Receiver: Randall Cobb – Green Bay Packers
Season Target NEP: 48.65
NEP per target: 1.09
Last week: #2

With receivers and tight ends, evaluation of players will be based on Target NEP rather than Reception NEP. Target NEP will look at how a player is doing on all targets received, not just on the passes he catches.

Notice that Cobb and the other four candidates (below) this week are all playing at a high-level of efficiency, measured using our Reception NEP per target metric. This will be a very fluid ranking each week with Golden Tate, Jordy Nelson, and Julio Jones all nipping at the heels of this group.

Cobb has the highest ranking currently thanks to his elite efficiency despite seeing the fewest number of targets (55). However, Cobb has the second highest catch rate (72.73%) among this group, with Emmanuel Sanders notching the best rate (78.33%). Cobb and Sanders may not be the top option for their respective quarterbacks, but are still showcasing their talents on fewer targets. Keeping pace with their efficiency and high catch rates will be key to staying within this group.

Playing Catch Up
2. Demaryius Thomas: 47.50 Target NEP, 0.89 per target (last week: #1)
3. Emmanuel Sanders: 46.92 Target NEP, 0.93 per target (last week: #6)
4. T.Y Hilton: 45.92 Target NEP, 0.90 per target (last week: #3)
5. Antonio Brown: 45.50 Target NEP, 0.84 per target (last week: #4)

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Season Target NEP: 44.07
NEP per target: 0.96
Last week: #6

It's safe to say that the Gronk is back. In a single week, Gronkowski put up 20.10 Target NEP, as he caught all 9 of his targets, scoring 3 times; playing the Bears will do that for you. How good was this weekly performance for Gronk? There are 99 tight ends that have been targeted at least once this season; of those 99 players, only 8 have an overall Target NEP that is above 20.00.

The breakout for Gronkowski was coming, but this was at another level. Gronkowski is one of two tight ends to have three top-five finishes within numberFire's Target NEP. The only other is Antonio Gates, second on our list this week. If not for a couple performances below expectation, Gates could be even closer to Gronk's Target NEP.

Playing Catch Up
2. Antonio Gates: 39.02 Target NEP, 1.13 per target (last week: #2)
3. Travis Kelce: 33.16 Target NEP, 1.02 per target (last week: #3)
4. Julius Thomas: 33.09 Target NEP, 1.01 per target (last week: #1)
5. Dwayne Allen: 27.44 Target NEP, 1.08 per target (last week: #5)