The 2012 season in a nutshell: Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice's record. Adrian Peterson threatened Eric Dickerson's. The league was overtaken by a rookie class the likes of which we may never see again. And the best four quarterbacks in football are now the same guys who have been the best four quarterbacks over the last half-decade or so, especially when viewed through Football Outsiders' exclusive statistical lens.
Using our core advanced metrics -- DYAR and DVOA (explained in depth, here) -- we've gone through the full-season totals at each position and identified the best and worst quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends from this season. The result is a two-day look at the studs and duds of the 2012 season, starting with the quarterbacks on Monday, then the RBs, WRs and TEs on Tuesday. The examination also includes which players have had their performance differ most drastically from their conventional statistics, as well as those players who have had the biggest improvement or decline in their performance from a year ago.
Our annual disclaimer: Numbers are never perfect. We certainly believe that our metrics do a better job of analyzing a player's performance than anything else you'll see, but statistics can't account for some things. We'll point out where the data need some additional context as warranted. Also, remember that DYAR is a cumulative stat, so players who miss time (like Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, who each played very well for San Francisco) will find it harder to make it onto these leaderboards.
Top 5 Quarterbacks
1) Tom Brady, New England Patriots: 2,091 DYAR (2,035 passing DYAR, 56 rushing)
2) Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: 1,802 DYAR (1,800 passing DYAR, 2 rushing)
3) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: 1,488 DYAR (1,395 passing DYAR, 94 rushing)
4) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: 1,455 DYAR (1,444 passing DYAR, 11 rushing)
5) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: 1,271 DYAR (1,216 passing DYAR, 55 rushing)