MVP Watch: Is Antonio Brown Still the Top Receiver in the NFL?

Was Antonio Brown's pedestrian Week 10 game enough to keep his claim on the top receiver spot?

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 its position-specific variations.

Since common numbers such as yards, completions, and touchdowns don't tell the whole story about a player, we can use NEP to see who is truly separating himself from the pack and adding value to his team.

Because this advanced metric alters depending on the position being analyzed, we'll look at each of the skill positions individually through the first 10 weeks of the season 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.

Top-5 NEP Performers by Position Through Week 10

Quarterbacks: 1. Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Season Passing NEP: 130.03
Passing NEP per drop back: 0.36
Last week: #2

Manning takes the cake in Week 10 for his third time this season atop of our MVP ranks. However, interceptions have done him in the last two weeks. In Week 9, Manning had a negative Pass NEP, his first of the season. Manning completed just under 60% of his passes and threw 2 interceptions on his way to a -0.36 Pass NEP.

Week 10’s two interceptions weren’t as costly because Peyton also threw five touchdowns against the lowly Raiders. With Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers on bye, Manning contributed 17.36 Pass NEP, giving him a 7.74-point advantage over Luck.

This week we see Aaron Rodgers make the top five for the second time in three weeks – and he only played half of a game. Rodgers threw for six touchdowns with four of them coming in the second quarter. Rodgers contributed 23.81 Passing NEP for the Packers, his second-best performance of the year. His best also came against the Bears.

Playing Catch Up
2. Andrew Luck: 122.29 Passing NEP, 0.30 per drop back (last week: #1)
3. Aaron Rodgers: 100.45 Passing NEP, 0.34 per drop back (last week: #6)
4. Philip Rivers: 96.69 Passing NEP, 0.31 per drop back (last week: #3)
5. Ben Roethlisberger: 83.97 Passing NEP, 0.23 per drop back (last week: #4)

Running Backs: 1. Justin Forsett – Baltimore Ravens
Season Rushing NEP: 19.38
Rushing NEP per carry: 0.15
Last week: #1

Note: Running backs have been evaluated solely on their performance running the ball, not catching the ball.

It’s a good thing Forsett picked Week 10 to put in his best Rushing NEP performance to date. He nearly doubled his previous best from Week 6, contributing 6.47 Rushing NEP to the Ravens. If he would have continued his trend of negative performances since Week 7, he could have dropped a spot this week - if not two.

If Forsett does falter one week or faces the trouble of the timeshare in Baltimore, who’s the next likely running back MVP candidate? Marshawn Lynch. Lynch should be included in the conversation after contributing 11.84 points on the ground to go along with his 4 touchdowns. His Week 10 Rushing NEP was more than Forsett’s and Jamaal Charles’ combined.

Speaking of Charles, he came into Week 10 averaging 3.12 Rushing NEP per week. Then, against the sixth-best rush defense according to our Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP metric, Charles played 4.06 points above expectation. Forsett doesn't see the volume the rest of the backs below do so if he missteps just a little, it could open up enough room for someone else like Charles or Lynch to take over his spot.

Playing Catch Up
2. Marshawn Lynch: 17.66 Rush NEP, 0.12 per rush (last week: #6)
3. Jamaal Charles: 14.68 Rushing NEP, 0.13 per rush (last week: #2)
4. Chris Ivory: 8.39 Rushing NEP, 0.07 per rush (last week: #3)
5. Arian Foster: 8.00 Rushing NEP, 0.05 per rush (last week: #5)

Receivers: 1. Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers
Season Target NEP: 56.79
Reception NEP per target: 0.80
Last week: #1

Note: Receivers and tight ends are evaluated 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.

Short receivers are dominating the numberFire receiver rankings in recent weeks. If you’re not a fan of short receivers, you may not want to keep reading. Week 8 saw Randall Cobb leading the way in Target NEP, but after a bye week, Antonio Brown is the perfect replacement for the past two weeks.

However, Brown did just enough to keep the top spot this week. Cobb doesn’t always get a lot of targets every week (he has seen more than seven targets just twice in nine games), but as the main receiver, Brown usually does. However, Brown only tallied 74 yards in Week 10. That seems pedestrian compared to 144 and 133 in Weeks 9 and 8, respectively.

Yards weren’t the problem though for Brown. He lost two fumbles, leading to his fourth-lowest Target NEP of the year. Demaryius Thomas didn’t have his best day either, but a 5.59 Target NEP allowed him to make a strong leap to second over T.Y. Hilton as he was on his bye week.

Playing Catch Up
2. Demaryius Thomas: 55.90 Target NEP, 0.84 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
3. T.Y. Hilton: 52.40 Target NEP, 0.93 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
4. Jordy Nelson: 51.89 Target NEP, 0.97 Reception NEP per target (last week: #9)
5. Emmanuel Sanders: 51.71 Target NEP, 0.86 Reception NEP per target (last week: #5)

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Season Target NEP: 52.24
Reception NEP per target: 0.95
Last week: #1

Not even a bye week can knock Gronkowski out of the top spot among all tight ends. Thanks to his Week 8 performance against the Bears, Gronk has kept a firm hold on the top spot. If he maintains his grip, this would be a battle for second place. Let’s see how everyone else could fall in behind him.

Julius Thomas has been at top for most weeks this year. Before Gronk took over, the only week Thomas didn’t have the top spot was Week 4 when he was on bye and Travis Kelce notched a 7.67 Target NEP.

Kelce is increasingly becoming the top receiving option in Kansas City and doesn’t seem to be as dependent on multi-touchdown games as Thomas might be. Some of Thomas’ worst weeks came when he didn’t haul in a touchdown pass from Manning. Antonio Gates might be the only other challenger at this point mostly because the Chargers are numberFire’s fourth best offense right now.

Playing Catch Up
2. Julius Thomas: 41.93 Target NEP, 1.12 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)
3. Travis Kelce: 41.34 Target NEP, 1.07 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)
4. Antonio Gates: 39.57 Target NEP, 1.06 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
5. Greg Olsen: 35.61 Target NEP, 0.70 Reception NEP per target (last week: #6)