MVP Watch: Aaron Rodgers on the Rise

If Aaron Rodgers keeps his pace up, he could run away with the quarterback MVP.

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 11 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 11

Quarterbacks: 1. Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts
Season Passing NEP: 128.58
Passing NEP per drop back: 0.29
Last week: #2

The top two quarterback spots have been going back and forth like a see-saw each of the past four weeks. It's as if Luck or Peyton Manning don't want to be in the top spot. Luck had a rough game against the Patriots but didn't pull an "Eli Manning" in Week 11 and still contributed 6.28 Passing NEP for the Colts.

However, it was still enough to take the top spot this week as the elder Manning struggled again in Week 11, throwing two interceptions in his third consecutive game. Thanks to those interceptions, Manning lost 2.43 points through the air for the Broncos and also fell behind another quarterback in our efficiency metric (Passing NEP per drop back).

Leading the NFL is Passing NEP per drop-back is the on-fire Aaron Rodgers, who since his bye week has been tearing up pass defenses like a Swiss army knife. Manning's efficiency has dipped 0.12 points per drop back since Week 8 while Rodgers' has risen 0.08 points per drop back. Rodgers has contributed 57.81 Passing NEP to the Packers as a result. For perspective, there are only 10 quarterbacks in the league that have a higher total all season.

Playing Catch Up
2. Peyton Manning: 127.60 Passing NEP, 0.31 per drop back (last week: #1)
3. Aaron Rodgers: 121.83 Passing NEP, 0.36 per drop back (last week: #3)
4. Philip Rivers: 97.35 Passing NEP, 0.28 per drop back (last week: #4)
5. Tom Brady: 95.99 Passing NEP, 0.25 per drop back (last week: #6)

Running Backs: 1. Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs
Season Rushing NEP: 20.08
Rushing NEP per carry: 0.15
Last week: #3

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

Don't say I didn't warn you. I cautioned against getting too excited about Justin Forsett and his solid Rushing NEP to date. I told you to keep an eye on Jamaal Charles too, so I hope you didn't blink as Charles took the top spot away from Forsett this week - the first time he hasn't held the lead in Rushing NEP among our qualified candidates. Granted, Forsett was on bye this week, but that does not diminish what Jamaal Charles has done this year.

In the five games leading up to his Week 6 bye week, Charles missed one game and had only one other game in which he contributed positively towards his and the Chiefs Rushing NEP. But since coming back from his bye week, Charles has posted a positive contribution in every game.

In the same span of time, Charles has doubled up in his efficiency as well. Heading into Week 7, Charles Rushing NEP per carry was 0.07; after Week 11 it has shot up to 0.15 per carry. High volume backs usually see a slight regression in efficiency, not improvement, as Charles has been very productive all over the field. Many gave up on him early in the season, but we now realize that Charles' 2014 is starting to approach historical significance.

Playing Catch Up
2. Justin Forsett: 19.38 Rushing NEP, 0.15 per rush (last week: #1)
3. Marshawn Lynch: 17.52 Rushing NEP, 0.10 per rush (last week: #2)
4. Le’Veon Bell: 11.05 Rushing NEP, 0.06 per rush (last week: #10)
5. Matt Forte: 9.79 Rushing NEP, 0.06 per rush (last week: #7)

Receivers: 1. Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers
Season Target NEP: 64.95
Reception NEP per target: 0.82
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.

Thanks to a late touchdown reception against the Titans and not turning the ball over in Week 11, Antonio Brown is still on top of the receiver group according to our Target NEP. Brown caught nine of his 11 targets gaining 91 yards on the day. That was good enough to post an 8.16 Target NEP, the fourth-best total of Week 11.

But with Brown on bye in Week 12 and second-place Emmanuel Sanders possibly not playing, the receiver ranks could change dramatically in another week. So who should we keep an eye on this week? Packers teammates Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson first come to mind. They are neck-and-neck currently and could take over the top two spots, but the Vikings pass defense is 12th in our power rankings

However, if Sanders doesn't play, expect Demaryius Thomas to get increased looks as well. He's always been reliable for Peyton Manning. One guy currently outside of our rankings to watch: T.Y. Hilton. Not only is Luck without Ahmad Bradshaw and possibly Dwayne Allen, but the Colts happen to draw the Jaguars in Week 12, making Hilton an even bigger threat in Week 12.

Playing Catch Up
2. Emmanuel Sanders: 61.44 Target NEP, 0.91 Reception NEP per target (last week: #5)
3. Randall Cobb: 56.50 Target NEP, 0.99 Reception NEP per target (last week: #6)
4. Jordy Nelson: 56.34 Target NEP, 0.97 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)
5. Demaryius Thomas: 54.57 Target NEP, 0.82 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Season Target NEP: 56.50
Reception NEP per target: 0.99
Last week: #1

The Gronk just keeps trucking along each week, scoring touchdowns at will. Even though Brady had an off game with two interceptions, Gronkowski still caught four of his five targets and scored a touchdown for the third week in a row. But while Gronkowski manages to hold a sizeable lead in Target NEP, he is looking up at other tight ends in additional categories.

Another measurement we can use to evaluate the performance of tight ends is success rate. When we look at this metric, this tells us what percentage of receptions made by a tight end contributed positively to his Target NEP. Gronkowski has converted 94.34% of his 53 receptions into a positive gain towards his Target NEP. That is second only to Travis Kelce, who has only one reception that hasn't been a positive gain in Target NEP.

However, there is a big difference in the volume that Kelce sees compared to Gronkowski. Kelce has seen barely half of the targets Gronkowski has due to the natures of their respective offenses. Regression in success rate should be expected the more a player is targeted. But with Gronk performing at such a high level and converting almost any reception into a positive NEP gain, he will be tough to be out for the top tight end spot.

Playing Catch Up
2. Antonio Gates: 42.37 Target NEP, 1.05 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)
3. Julius Thomas: 40.20 Target NEP, 1.03 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
4. Travis Kelce: 39.55 Target NEP, 0.96 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
5. Dwayne Allen: 32.09 Target NEP, 1.07 Reception NEP per target (last week: #6)