Last season, NFL.com introduced a new tool to help fantasy owners in their quest for a league title -- the fantasy points allowed (FPA) ratings. These ratings are based on the strength of a player's schedule using the average fantasy points their opponents allowed against the six major fantasy positions the previous season. For example, the Dallas Cowboys allowed an average of 28.1 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers in 2010. As a result, any wideout that faces the Cowboys in 2011 was rewarded 28.1 points. Hakeem Nicks, who faces them twice as a divisional opponent, is rewarded a combined 56.2 points. The bigger the point total, the easier the schedule.
Of course, we all know that there is no fool-proof way to figure out which fantasy players will succeed and which ones will fail. Rosters and coaching personnel change, defenses will improve or falter from one season to the next, and the unpredictable nature of the NFL will continue to frustrate fantasy owners. But these FPA ratings can still be very useful when picking between players with similar value and looking for those ever-elusive sleeper candidates.
1. DeSean Jackson, Eagles (350.2 points): Two of the more talented young wideouts in the league, Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will benefit from a schedule that includes games against the Cowboys (2), Redskins (2), Patriots and Falcons. Those teams all allowed no fewer than 22.2 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers last season.
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (344 points): With Kevin Kolb under center, Fitzgerald's fantasy value is back on the rise. In addition, he has one of the most favorable schedules among wide receivers based on our FPA rating. Fitzgerald faces the Seahawks (2), 49ers (2), Cowboys, Redskins and Bengals among his weaker foes.
3. Mike Wallace, Steelers (341.9 points): Wallace broke out for the Steelers and fantasy owners alike in 2010, posting 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns. The schedule improves his value, and the stock of Hines Ward or Emmanuel Sanders, as games against the Bengals (2), Seahawks, 49ers, Texans and Jaguars are certainly very favorable.
4. Santana Moss, Redskins (339.9 points): Moss re-signed with Redskins, but his value will take a hit with John Beck at the helm. For now, his schedule is very favorable with games against the Cowboys (2), Seahawks, 49ers and Patriots. This is also good news for Anthony Armstrong, who has some deep-sleeper appeal for this season.
5. Michael Crabtree, 49ers (337.4 points): The Niners will have a different look next season under coach Jim Harbaugh, but Crabtree will remain their No. 1 wideout. He's a risk-reward selection due to his foot problems, but Crabtree does have a favorable schedule that includes games against the Seahawks (2), Cowboys, Redskins and Bengals.
6. Hakeem Nicks, Giants (336 points): Based on his immense skills and what is a very favorable schedule, Nicks could be the top-scoring wideout in fantasy football in 2011. His weaker opponents include the Cowboys (2), Redskins (2), Seahawks and 49ers. Of course, the schedule is also attractive for sleeper Mario Manningham as well.
7. Sidney Rice, Seahawks (335.6 points): Rice's move to the Great Northwest will not improve his fantasy value in the least.In fact, it hurts it. He does have a nice schedule, though, facing the 49ers (2), Cowboys, Redskins, Bengals and Falcons. Williams will have late-round value as a fantasy reserve and matchup-based No. 3 starter.
8. Mike Sims-Walker, Rams (331.7 points): With OC Josh McDaniels calling the offensive plays, there's a good chance that one of Sims-Walker, Danario Alexander or Danny Amendola is going to put up career totals. A schedule that includes games against the Seahawks (2), 49ers (2), Cowboys, Redskins and Bengals just adds to their draft appeal.
9. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins (330.3 points): Marshall is coming off a disappointing 2010 campaign, recording 1,014 yards and just three touchdown catches in his first season with the Dolphins. His 2011 schedule is favorable for a rebound, however, as Marshall will face the Patriots (2), Cowboys, Redskins and Texans among his easier opponents.
10. Greg Little, Browns (330.7 points): Little, a talented rookie wide receiver out of North Carolina, will have some real sleeper potential in the offense of new coach Pat Shurmur in 2011. He has a fairly favorable schedule ahead -- his easiest opponents next season include the Bengals (2), Ravens (2), Seahawks, 49ers, Texans and Jaguars.
11. Miles Austin, Cowboys (329.9 points): A clear-cut bargain candidate, Austin's skills and abilities make him a valuable fantasy player. Facing a favorable schedule that includes games against the Redskins (2), Seahawks, 49ers, Patriots and Lions gives Austin and his teammate, Dez Bryant, an advantage over other wideouts with similar value.
12. Steve Johnson, Bills (326.9 points): One of last season's top waiver-wire gems, Johnson came out of nowhere to produce better than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 2011 schedule is attractive as well, as Johnson will face the Patriots (2), Cowboys, Redskins, Giants, Chiefs and Bengals. He'll be a No. 2 fantasy wideout in most leagues.
13. Anquan Boldin, Ravens (325.8 points): Should we have seen Boldin's statistical collapse coming? Heading into last season, he had one of the worst FPA ratings at his position. Things are much better for 2011, though, as Boldin and Derrick Mason face the Bengals (2), Seahawks, 49ers, Texans and Jaguars. Look for Boldin to be a No. 2 wideout.
T-14. Reggie Wayne, Colts (325.5 points): Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie face a favorable slate of games in 2011, with matchups against the Texans (2), Jaguars (2), Falcons, Bengals, Chiefs and Patriots. As long as Peyton Manning is under center, of course, this trio is going to have value for fantasy owners regardless of opponent.
T-14. A.J. Green, Bengals (325.5 points): With Chad Ochocinco out of the mix, Green and Jerome Simpson figure to see plenty of work in 2011. While much depends on the development of Andy Dalton, this duo does have a favorable schedule with games against the Ravens (2), Seahawks, 49ers, Jaguars and Texans.
16. Santonio Holmes, Jets (324.4 points): Holmes and Plaxico Burress with be the starting wideouts for the Jets, and they're looking at a favorable schedule with games against the Patriots (2), Cowboys, Redskins, Chiefs and Jaguars. Holmes will be drafted as a No. 2 fantasy wideout, while Burress should be seen as more of a third or fourth option.
17. Kenny Britt, Titans (318.7 points): Britt could be the single-best breakout player at his position next season -- as long as he doesn't face major NFL discipline for his off-field issues. The schedule will certainly help Britt's cause, as he faces the Texans (2), Jaguars (2), Falcons and Bengals. He'll be selected as a high-end No. 2 wideout.
18. Vincent Jackson, Chargers (314.9 points): Jackson, who has been franchised by the Chargers, faces a 2011 schedule that includes games against the Chiefs (2), Vikings, Lions, and Jaguars. He also faces the Ravens, who allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to wide receivers last season. Clearly, Jackson's stock is back on the rise.
19. Marques Colston, Saints (314.6 points): With so many viable receiving options in the Saints offense, Colston's value is trending downward a bit. Still, he does have some nice matchups against the Falcons (2), Vikings, Lions, Texans and Jaguars. Obviously, that's also good news for the likes of Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson.
20. Wes Welker, Patriots (312.7 points): Welker, Ochocinco and Deion Branch will all be selected in most fantasy drafts, and their slate of games includes good matchups against the Cowboys, Redskins, Texans, Jaguars and Chiefs. This trio also faces the Jets (2), who actually allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers.
21. Mike Williams, Buccaneers (311.5 points) Williams had a phenomenal rookie season -- now fantasy leaguers have to ponder whether a sophomore slump is imminent in 2011. Regardless, Williams and fellow second-year wideout Arrelious Benn face the Falcons (2), Vikings, Lions, Texans, Jaguars, Cowboys and 49ers among their more favorable opponents.
22. Mike Thomas, Jaguars (309.6 points): Thomas and Mike Sims-Walker face favorable matchups against the Texans (2), Falcons, Bengals, Ravens and Titans, but overall their schedule isn't going to improve their fantasy stock drastically in either direction. If you have to choose between the two Jags wideouts, though, Thomas has more upside.
23. Jacoby Ford, Raiders (308.6 points): None of the Raiders wideouts, including Ford, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey, are going to have a ton of value in fantasy drafts regardless of the schedule, which is middle of the road in terms of opponents. The easiest matchups are against the Vikings, Patriots, Chiefs and Texans.
24. Steve Smith, Panthers (308.3 points): Smith, or any other Panthers wide receiver for that matter, will be limited in value due to a questionable quarterback situation. The schedule won't help the wide receivers, either, as tough matchups against the Saints (2), Buccaneers (2), Colts, Bears and Packers loom for the 2011 season.
25. Andre Johnson, Texans (305.1 points): The matchups matter little when it comes to the immense fantasy value of Johnson, who ranks No. 1 at his position on NFL.com. But just for the record, A.J., Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter do have some difficult matchups ahead for 2011 against the Colts (2), Saints, Buccaneers and Steelers.
26. Brandon Lloyd, Broncos (303.6 points): Can Lloyd duplicate his breakout season of 2010? Probably not, but he's still going to rank as a borderline No. 1 or 2 fantasy option for next season. The schedule won't help him, though, as Lloyd faces the Chargers (2), Raiders (2), Bears, Packers and Dolphins among his tougher opponents.
27. Calvin Johnson, Lions (303.5 points): Much like his namesake from Houston, the man nicknamed Megatron is almost immune to the matchups. Playing in the NFC North doesn't help, of course, as he's guaranteed four games against the Bears and Packers. But Johnson remains a top-five option at his position and has second-round value.
28. Greg Jennings, Packers (300 points): Jennings, the sixth-ranked wide receiver on NFL.com, faces tough games against the Bears (2), Saints, Buccaneers, Chargers and Raiders. Of course, playing in an explosive offense with a superstar quarterback in Aaron Rodgers is enough to even the playing field and makes Jennings a valuable asset.
29. Roy Williams, Bears (299.4 points): Despite the addition of OC Mike Martz, not a single Bears wideout had a 1,000-yard season in 2010. Williams might be the best bet to reach that mark in 2011, but he's still no more than a third option. Tough games against the Packers (2), Saints, Buccaneers, Chargers and Raiders won't help his chances.
30. Roddy White, Falcons (297.2 points): White has finished no worse than seventh in fantasy points among wide receivers in each of the last three seasons, and that isn't going to change regardless of a difficult schedule. He'll face the Saints (2), Buccaneers (2), Bears, Packers and Colts among his more formidable opponents in 2011.
31. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (294.2 points): Can Bowe duplicate the 15 touchdown catches he produced in 2010? It's not very likely, especially based on a schedule that includes games against the Chargers (2), Raiders (2), Bears, Packers, Steelers and Colts. I'd look for Bowe to be drafted as no more than a low-end No. 1 fantasy wideout in most leagues.
32. Percy Harvin, Vikings (291 points): Harvin certainly has the talent to make an impact and is a breakout candidate, both on the field and in the world of fantasy football. Just keep in mind that his upcoming schedule includes tough games against teams like the Bears (2), Packers (2), Saints, Buccaneers, Chargers and Raiders.