NFL MVP Watch: Crowning the Winners

With the stellar performances by various wideouts, 2014 was the Year of the Receiver. Who was best?

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 from the whole 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 17

Quarterbacks: 1. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
Season Passing NEP: 188.41
Passing NEP per drop back: 0.34
Last week: #1

No quarterback went over the 5,000 yard passing mark, but that didn't stop our top-five from putting forth their best effort in the final week of the season. Four of the five quarterbacks listed all notched a top-10 Passing NEP in Week 16.

Peyton Manning put up 8.02 Passing NEP as the ninth-best game of Week 17 but only because he didn't have to throw any touchdowns against the Raiders. Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo both put up a top-five week to cement their standing in the top five overall.

But the numberFire quarterback of the year goes to Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers put up 18.78 Passing NEP (the second-best total of the week), leading the Packers to their fourth-straight division crown.

Rodgers was also the best of all quarterbacks (with at least 200 drop backs) with 0.34 points per drop back, our in-house efficiency metric. Romo had a 1.37% advantage over Rodgers in Success Rate -- which shows a slightly higher consistency level -- but the percentage difference is small, and Rodgers still takes the cake thanks to the volume of drop backs he had and the points he contributed running the ball. In fact, when factoring in his rushing, his Total NEP was 214.26. Rodgers was the only player to top 200 Total NEP this year. Second place? Manning with 155.65.

Playing Catch Up
2. Peyton Manning: 167.47 Passing NEP, 0.27 per pass (last week #2)
3. Ben Roethlisberger: 159.10 Passing NEP, 0.25 per pass (last week #3)
4. Tony Romo: 145.10 Passing NEP, 0.31 per pass (last week #4)
5. Tom Brady: 129.79 Passing NEP, 0.20 per pass (last week #6)

Running Backs: 1. Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
Season Rushing NEP: 18.59
Season Target NEP 43.85
Rushing NEP per carry: 0.06

Note: These rankings are a reflection of a simple formula that combines our Rushing and Target Net Expected Points metrics. Adding in the Target NEP (how the player does on all targets) allows us to evaluate the overall impact a running back has in the passing game as catching the ball is more effective than running ball.

It's really been a forgone conclusion over the last few weeks that Le'Veon Bell is the best running back in the league this year, as he dominated rushing the ball and catching the ball out of the backfield. Bell also had the best season by a Steelers running back since 2000 according to our Rushing NEP data.

Bell may have finished 8.75 Rushing NEP behind Marshawn Lynch, but it's his Target NEP that sets him apart. Only two other backs finished with a Target NEP greater than 20. Ahmad Bradshaw may have been able to challenge Bell if not for his Week 11 injury, as his Target NEP was 1.51 points higher than Bell before he got hurt.

DeMarco Murray scratched his way back to the top five at the end of the season, as he was the only back to have positive gains in both Rushing and Target NEP in Week 17 while Eddie Lacy's -10.97 Rushing NEP dropped him out of the top five and nearly out of the top 10. Lacy was a great asset to the Packers catching the ball in 2014 but needs a lot of improvement in the rushing department for 2015.

Jamaal Charles finished as the most efficient runner in 2014 among backs with at least 100 carries while Justin Forsett could never getting going when catching the ball in the Ravens' offense. Lynch finished second overall this year thanks to a strong late season push, accumulating nearly half of his Rushing NEP over the last four weeks (13.42).

Playing Catch Up
2. Marshawn Lynch: 27.34 Rushing NEP, 6.50 Target NEP, 0.10 per rush
3. Jamaal Charles: 22.10 Rushing NEP, 2.44 Target NEP, 0.11 per rush
4. Justin Forsett: 22.67 Rushing NEP, -4.06 Target NEP, 0.10 per rush
5. DeMarco Murray: 10.48 Rushing NEP, 7.63 Target NEP, 0.03 per rush

Receivers: 1. Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers
Season Target NEP: 99.21
Reception NEP per target: 0.84
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.

For the last five weeks, Antonio Brown has been in the same boat as his teammate Le'Veon Bell -- atop the rankings for his position. While Dez Bryant and Julio Jones have produced two of the season's top-10 performances, Brown has been right behind them in production the last five weeks with the fourth-most Target NEP since his bye in Week 12.

Brown has also put up the best Target NEP by a Steelers receiver since 2000 -- by far. Mike Wallace contributed 70.65 Target NEP in 2010; Brown surpassed that mark during his matchup against the Saints in Week 13. Brown was nearly the fourth receiver since 2000 to top 100 Target NEP but fell just short. His 99.21 was still the fifth-best we've seen at numberFire in the same timeframe, falling just 0.45 Target NEP short of Muhsin Muhammad's mark from 2004.

Emmanuel Sanders was chasing Brown all year and put up a top-10 all-time Target NEP this year himself, edging out Jordy Nelson's 2011 mark by 0.69 Target NEP and missing out on the ninth-best by Randy Moss (in 2000) by just 0.07 Target NEP. Speaking of Nelson, his 90.21 Target NEP was the second-best of his career, just 0.70 points off his 2011 Target NEP.

Last, but not least, Julio Jones had a great comeback year from his foot injury and had the best year, according to our Target NEP, by a Falcons receiver since 2000, topping Roddy White's 2008 mark by 17.68 points. And Randall Cobb won't go emptyhanded this year, as he was the second Packers receiver to make the top-five. Cobb was the most efficient receiver (Reception NEP per target) of our top-five and tied for the highest efficiency (with Dez Bryant) among all receivers with at least 100 targets. It was a spectacular season by receivers across the board this year.

Playing Catch Up
2. Emmanuel Sanders: 91.60 Target NEP, 0.89 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
3. Jordy Nelson: 90.21 Target NEP, 0.93 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
4. Julio Jones: 85.72 Target NEP, 0.88 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)
5. Randall Cobb: 84.93 Target NEP, 0.94 Reception NEP per target (last week: #5)

Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
Season Target NEP: 66.62
Reception NEP per target: 0.86
Last week: #1

Despite taking the week off and Travis Kelce's and Antonio Gates' top-10 Target NEP performances in Week 17, Rob Gronkowski was still able to retain his comfortable lead as the league's best tight end.

Kelce performed well in his first full season. He had the most top-five weekly finishes among all tight ends (five) and put up numbers that rivaled Tony Gonzalez's time in Kansas City. Kelce's Target NEP was only 1.77 points off of Gonzalez's best season in 2006 and is the third best by any Chiefs' pass-catcher since 2000.

Antonio Gates had a renaissance year, posting his best Target NEP in three years and finishing as the most efficient tight end of the top five and second-most efficient of all tight ends with at least 60 targets. Greg Olsen finished the year as the most reliable option in Carolina, no matter who was quarterback, and Jason Witten played the savvy veteran, taking advantage of injuries to other tight ends to finish in the top five.

Playing Catch Up
2. Travis Kelce: 58.23 Target NEP, 0.83 Reception NEP per target (last week: #2)
3. Antonio Gates: 52.64 Target NEP, 0.92 Reception NEP per target (last week: #3)
4. Greg Olsen: 46.79 Target NEP, 0.70 Reception NEP per target (last week: #4)
5. Jason Witten: 43.94 Target NEP, 0.82 Reception NEP per target (last week: #5)