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 Denver Broncos allowed an average of 24 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs in 2010. As a result, any runner that faces the Broncos in 2011 was rewarded 24 points. Jamaal Charles, who faces them twice as a divisional opponent, is rewarded a combined 48 points. The larger the overall 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. Michael Turner, Falcons (281.5 points): Turner has a chance to post solid totals next season, especially when you consider a schedule that includes games against the Panthers (2), Texans, Jaguars, Colts, Titans, Buccaneers and Seahawks. All of those teams allowed no fewer than 17.1 fantasy points per game to backs in 2010.
2. Chris Johnson, Titans (275.8 points): Some fantasy owners think CJ2K had a "down" year in 2010, though he still rushed for close to 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns. Based on his upcoming schedule, he's in a great position to make a huge impact. Johnson faces the Texans (2), Jaguars (2), Colts (2), Broncos and Bills among his easier opponents.
3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (274.4 points): The most reliable fantasy back since 2006, Peterson will be the No. 1 overall pick in countless drafts next season. His soft schedule includes games against the Lions (2), Broncos, Raiders, Cardinals and Redskins. Look for A.D. to surpass his 2010 totals and continue to produce at a rampant pace.
4. Frank Gore, 49ers (271.4 points): Gore has all the tools to be an elite fantasy back, and a schedule that includes games against the Cardinals (2), Seahawks (2), Redskins, Buccaneers and Lions will make him a popular pick. If he can avoid injuries, which is an issue, Gore could put up top-five numbers at his position.
5. Matt Forte, Bears (271 points): Though he had some inconsistent weeks, Forte was still a very nice fantasy option overall in 2010. His statistical success should continue, as Forte faces the Lions (2), Broncos, Raiders and Seahawks. Those teams all surrendered no fewer than 19.4 fantasy points per game to opposing runners last season.
6. Felix Jones, Cowboys (270.5 points): Jones was clearly the best running back in Dallas last season, and a 2011 schedule that includes games against the Redskins (2), Bills, Patriots, Lions and Buccaneers makes him an interesting option. This is also good news for DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice, who will battle for carries in camp.
7. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers (268.5 points): Williams remains the Panthers back to target, though Jonathan Stewart is also in the mix. They'll face a nice slate of games, with matchups against the Buccaneers (2), Texans, Jaguars, Colts, Titans, Lions, Cardinals and Redskins. Consider Williams a No. 2 back, with Stewart more of a No. 3.
8. Reggie Bush, Dolphins (268.3 points): Bush looks like the No. 1 runner for the Dolphins, and he'll have quite a favorable slate of games during his rookie season. Matchups against the Bills (2), Patriots (2), Broncos, Raiders, and Texans could certainly bare some statistical fruit, so don't be afraid to grab him as a No. 2 or 3 runner.
9. Shonn Greene, Jets (268.2 points): A transition from LaDainian Tomlinson to Greene as the Jets' No. 1 back seems imminent, and a favorable schedule that includes games against the Bills (2), Patriots (2), Broncos, Raiders, Redskins and Jaguars is promising. If Greene does assume a larger role, he could develop into a No. 2 fantasy back.
10. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (267.3 points): Between injuries and the emergence of Mike Tolbert, Mathews wasn't able to make much of an impact as a rookie. He did finish strong, though, and a schedule that includes games against the Broncos (2), Raiders (2), Redskins and Jaguars helps his value. Of course, Tolbert's presence limits his upside.
11. Ryan Grant, Packers (265.4 points): Grant missed most of last season with an injured ankle, and the emergence of James Starks could mean that a shared workload is imminent. Regardless, the Packers' No. 1 runner will face a nice schedule that includes games against the Lions (2), Buccaneers, Panthers, Broncos and Raiders.
12. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (264.8 points): Mendenhall is coming off a career season, ranking eighth in fantasy points at the position on the strength of his 1,273 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. His success should continue in 2011, as the talented back will go up against the Cardinals, Seahawks, Texans, Jaguars, Colts, Titans and Patriots.
13. Mark Ingram, Saints (264.3 points): It looks like Ingram is the clear-cut favorite to start the Saints, especially after trading Reggie Bush to the Dolphins. The talented rookie out of Alabama will have some nice matchups against the Panthers (2), Buccaneers (2) and the AFC South teams on what is a mostly favorable schedule.
14. Joseph Addai, Colts (263.5 points): Addai has re-signed with the Colts and will return to his role as the team's top running back for 2011. The LSU product faces a nice slate of games that includes very favorable matchups against the Texans (2), Jaguars (2), Titans (2), Panthers, Buccaneers and Patriots.
15. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs (262.8 points): Charles finished third in fantasy points among running backs last season. While he is no lock to reach that same level of success again in 2011, Charles should remain productive for owners overall based on games against the Broncos (2), Raiders (2), Bills, Lions and Colts.
16. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (262.7 points): Bradshaw re-signed with the Giants and will continue to be the starter for coach Tom Coughlin. The versatile veteran and his teammate, Brandon Jacobs, will face favorable matchups against the Redskins (2), Cardinals, Seahawks, Bills and Patriots. Bradshaw is a rock solid No. 2 runner in most leagues.
17. Darren McFadden, Raiders (262.4 points): The schedule isn't going to make McFadden more or less valuable on draft day, though he has some nice matchups against the Broncos (2), Lions, Bills, Patriots and Texans. The real issue is whether or not he can avoid injuries -- McFadden has missed at least three games in each of his three NFL seasons.
18. Arian Foster, Texans: (261 points): I'm not sure Foster can duplicate his immense statistical success of 2010, but it doesn't hurt that all three of the teams in his own division were dreadful against the run. He also has favorable matchups against the Panthers, Buccaneers and Raiders on the slate. Look for Foster to go early in Round 1.
19. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers (260.9 points): Blount's value is trending upward, especially after a very strong finish to his rookie season. While he does have some nice matchups against the Panthers (2), Lions, Texans, Jaguars, Colts and Titans, Blount's schedule isn't overly favorable. Still, he'll have early-round value as a No. 2 fantasy runner.
20. Cedric Benson, Bengals (244.4 points): Benson does have some tough matchups, including games against the Steelers (2), Ravens (2), Chargers. Overall, though, he has more favorable opponents in matchups against the Texans, Jaguars, Colts, Titans, Cardinals, Seahawks, Bills and Broncos. Consider Benson a viable No. 2 fantasy back.
21. Ryan Torain, Redskins (257.9 points): Torain showed flashes of potential last season, but he'll have to battle Tim Hightower for carries. Their slate of games includes favorable matchups against the Cardinals, Seahawks, Bills and Panthers, but overall the schedule won't improve either back's value. An infusion of durability would help Torain, however.
22. Steven Jackson, Rams (257.4 points): For the second straight season, Jackson started at least 15 games and is shedding the "injury prone" label. He's still no more than a high-end No. 2 fantasy back, though, especially considering his schedule. Jackson will face tough matchups against the 49ers (2), Giants, Steelers, Ravens and Packers.
23. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (254.7 points): "Pocket Hercules" has a major advantage playing in the AFC South, as those teams struggled to stop the run last year. Unfortunately, the rest of his schedule includes tough games against the Falcons, Steelers, Ravens, Chargers and Jets. Still, Jones-Drew will be a first-round selection.
24. Fred Jackson, Bills (253.6 points):Bills running backs had the worst FPA rating last season, and things aren't going to get much better in 2011. Jackson and his backfield mate, C.J. Spiller, will go up against the Jets (2), Dolphins (2), Giants, Cowboys, and Chargers. It's hard to envision either of Buffalo's backs being more than flex starters.
25. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (252.5 points): Moreno has all the talent in the world and could be a legitimate No. 1 fantasy back, but durability is an issue. He also has a tough schedule with games against the Chargers (2), Packers, Bears, Jets and Dolphins. At the end of the day, though, Moreno will be drafted as a high-end No. 2 back.
26. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (251.9): McCoy is coming off a great 2010 season that saw him finish seventh in fantasy points among backs. While he does have a difficult schedule ahead that includes games against the Giants (2), Cowboys (2), 49ers, Jets, Dolphins, Bears and Falcons, McCoy's versatile skill set will still make him an asset for owners.
27. Ray Rice, Ravens (251.4 points): While he was a bit inconsistent last season, Rice still finished ninth in fantasy points at his position in 2010. His FPA rating is negatively affected due to a pair of game against the Steelers, not to mention matchups with the 49ers, Jets and Chargers. Luckily, Rice also faces the vulnerable AFC South in four games.
28. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots (250.5 points): One of the better pickups off the waiver wire last season, the "Law Firm" rushed for career bests in yards and touchdowns. His schedule for 2011 is difficult with games against the Jets (2), Dolphins (2), Chargers and Steelers, and a suddenly crowded Patriots backfield has his value falling fast.
29. Peyton Hillis, Browns (249.9 points): As much as I promoted Hillis last season, I admit to being a little worried about him in 2011. He wore down at the end of last year, Montario Hardesty is coming back and Hillis faces tough games against the Steelers (2), Ravens (2), 49ers, Chargers and Dolphins. Facing the AFC South will help, though.
30. Beanie Wells Cardinals (248.8 points): Wells is the unquestioned workhorse for the Cardinals, but the schedule certainly won't help his value in 2011. Matchups against the 49ers (2), Giants, Cowboys, Steelers, Ravens and Vikings are difficult, making it tough to promote Wells as more than a potential No. 2 fantasy back or flex starter.
31. Jahvid Best, Lions (246.8 points): Best is a talented and explosive running back, but his durability remains an issue. What's more, the former California standout must face a schedule that includes games against the Packers (2), Bears (2), Vikings (2), Falcons, Chargers and Cowboys. The loss of Mikel LeShoure does improve his value, though.
32. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (245.2 points): Lynch will forever be remembered for the impressive touchdown run he made against the Saints in the postseason, but that was one of his lone bright spots. With games against the 49ers (2), Giants, Cowboys, Steelers, Ravens, Falcons and Bears on the schedule, Lynch could be in for a tough ride.