Each defensive unit was assigned a point value per position from 1-32, based on how it performed last season. Keep in mind, this rating has nothing to do with how a team finished in passing or rushing defense. Take into consideration the Panthers, who were ranked third against the run last season but still allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs. The Raiders gave up the most fantasy points (25.4 PPG) to the position, so each runner facing them received one point. If a back plays the Steelers, who surrendered the fewest points (13.2 PPG), he received 32 points. The lower the point total, the better the rating.
Of course, we all know there is no fool-proof way to figure out which fantasy players will succeed and which ones will fail. Rosters and coaching personnel will change, defenses will improve or falter from one season to the next, and the unpredictable nature of the NFL will continue to frustrate and excite us.
But these FPA ratings can still be very useful when picking between players with similar value and looking for those ever-elusive sleepers that can help lead you to that ultimate goal –- a fantasy championship.
1. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Charles was a fantasy superstar at the end of last season, and his 2010 schedule sets up well for him to find continued success. He'll face the Raiders (2), Broncos (2), Chargers (2), Colts, Titans, Rams, Seahawks, Bills and Browns. Seven of those teams allowed an average of 20.2 fantasy PPG or more to running backs in 2009.
2. Frank Gore, 49ers
A surefire first-round fantasy pick, Gore has some tremendous matchups on the schedule for 2010. The Miami product will go up against the Rams (2), Seahawks (2), Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers and Raiders. None of those teams finished better than 15th in terms of allowing the most fantasy points to backs.
3. Justin Forsett, Seahawks
Whether it's Forsett, Julius Jones or another player, the top back in Seattle will have an attractive schedule based on games against the Rams (2), Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, Raiders, Chargers, Broncos, Chiefs and Bears. The Rams, Raiders and Chiefs were three of the four easiest teams for backs to score on in 2009.
4. Beanie Wells, Cardinals
Notice a trend with NFC West running backs? Wells is the third runner from the division in the top four based on our FPA ratings. Wells and Tim Hightower will see games against the Rams (2), Seahawks (2), Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers and the entire AFC West. That's good news for Wells, who has a ton of sleeper potential.
5. Steven Jackson, Rams
Jackson is the fourth and final NFC West running back in our top five based on favorable contests against the Seahawks (2), Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers, Lions and the AFC West. While the lack of talent around him and a proneness to injuries are a concern, the fact that Jackson has such a favorable schedule is a major advantage.
6. Darren Sproles, Chargers
Whoever tops the team's depth chart in Week 1 will likely be a viable sleeper candidate in fantasy circles. The Bolts have a very favorable slate of games for their No. 1 runner, facing the Broncos (2), Raiders (2), Chiefs (2), Titans, Colts, Rams and Seahawks. You'll notice that most of the AFC West runners have very good ratings.
7. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
While the presence of Correll Buckhalter could limit his numbers, Moreno still has plenty of sleeper appeal in 2010. Not only will Moreno face six games against his AFC West opponents, but the second-year runner also has great matchups against the Colts, Titans, Rams and Seahawks. The schedule makes him an even more attractive No. 2 option.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
Not that you need another reason to draft him in the first round, but Jones-Drew has some very attractive matchups on the slate for next season. He'll face the Colts (2), Titans (2), Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Browns and Bills. Four of those teams were in the top five in terms of allowing the most fantasy points to runners.
9. Darren McFadden, Raiders
Coach Tom Cable wants a featured running back to emerge heading into next season, so either McFadden or Michael Bush could turn into a great draft value. The eventual starter will have a favorable slate of games, including contests against the Broncos (2), Chiefs (2), Chargers (2), Colts, Titans, Rams and Seahawks.
10. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers
Williams and Jonathan Stewart will be the most popular backfield combination in fantasy drafts next season, and for good reason. Not only did they both rush for 1,100-plus yards in 2009, but this duo also has a favorable slate of games that includes matchups against the Saints (2), Buccaneers (2), Rams, Seahawks, Browns and Bears.
11. Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers
Williams was overlooked in many drafts last season, but he finished as the best fantasy back in Tampa Bay. While he won't be a featured option in 2010, Williams still has middle-round value based partially on the strength of a schedule that includes games against the Panthers (2), Saints (2), Rams, Seahawks, Browns and Lions.
12. Michael Turner, Falcons
Turner was a victim of the dreaded "Curse of 370" last season, but he'll remain a surefire first-round pick in most 2010 fantasy drafts. This touchdown machine is back at 100 percent and will face a slate of games that includes favorable matchups against the Panthers (2), Saints (2), Buccaneers (2), Rams, Seahawks and Browns.
13. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
Mendenhall, a tremendous breakout candidate for next season, should see a greater role in the Steelers offense and more production for fantasy owners. He also has some very attractive matchups in games against the Browns (2), Saints, Bills, Panthers, Buccaneers, Raiders and Titans. Mendenhall now has first-round value.
14. Pierre Thomas, Saints
Thomas and Reggie Bush will see the vast majority of the backfield work for coach Sean Payton next season, and a schedule that includes games against the Buccaneers (2), Panthers (2), Rams, Seahawks and Browns is very favorable. Those teams all allowed an average of at least 21.3 fantasy PPG to running backs last season.
15. Ray Rice, Ravens
Maybe the biggest single sleeper from the 2009 season, Rice is now a surefire first-round pick across the board. While his schedule does include some tough games against the Steelers (2), Bengals (2) and Jets, the Rutgers product also faces favorable opponents in the Browns (2), Bills, Saints, Buccaneers, Broncos and Panthers.
16. Steve Slaton, Texans
It's really anyone's guess who'll be the No. 1 running back in Houston, but the eventual starter will have a decent schedule to work with next season. Games against the Ravens and Jets will be difficult, but matchups featuring the Colts (2), Titans (2), Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders and Chargers should be advantageous.
17. Cedric Benson, Bengals
Benson posted great numbers last season, so he'll be worth first-round consideration on draft day. The fact that he faces the Ravens and Steelers twice does obviously damage to his FPA rating, but Benson was actually very productive regardless of matchups in 2009. He also faces the Browns (2), Bills, Buccaneers and Colts.
18. Chris Johnson, Titans
Johnson could have the worst FPA rating at his position, and chances are he'd still be one of the first two players taken in most drafts. An explosive runner who can post great numbers regardless of the opponent, Johnson has some nice matchups set up for him against the Colts (2), Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers in 2010.
19. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Much like Johnson, Peterson's value won't fall based on the schedule. In fact, he could be even more of an asset with Chester Taylor no longer in the mix. Games against NFC North rivals like the Bears (2) and Lions (2) are advantageous, as are matchups with the Bills and Saints. Overall, Peterson will be a top-three pick in most drafts.
20. Clinton Portis, Redskins
How does a broken-down running back lose even more fantasy value? Pair him with two other broken-down running backs. Portis will compete with Larry Johnson and Willie Parker for carries in 2010, and a schedule that includes games against the Eagles (2), Cowboys (2), Packers, Vikings and Jaguars isn't especially favorable.
21. Joseph Addai, Colts
Addai was a solid draft value in 2009, but the presence of Donald Brown and a less-than-favorable schedule could cause his numbers to slide. The veteran out of LSU will face the Jaguars (2), Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, Patriots and Bengals. None of those teams allowed more than 17.7 fantasy PPG to running backs last season.
22. Shonn Greene, Jets
Greene might be the single-biggest breakout candidate in fantasy football next season, but he will face some tough opponents. Aside from the Patriots (2), he'll also face the Ravens, Bengals, Packers, Vikings and Steelers. Of course, having one of the league's best offensive lines in front of him will help Greene produce good totals.
23. Laurence Maroney, Patriots
Maroney was the most valuable fantasy option in a crowded Patriots backfield last season, so he'll be worth a middle-round look. While he does have some favorable matchups against the Bills (2), Lions and Bears, Maroney will also go up against far tougher opponents like the Jets (2), Ravens, Bengals, Steelers and Vikings.
24. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins
Brown is a productive player when healthy, but injuries have hurt his value over the last three seasons. He'll also have to deal with the presence of veteran backfield mate Ricky Williams, not to mention a schedule that includes games against tough opponents like the Jets (2), Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Packers, and Vikings.
25. Ryan Grant, Packers
Grant is coming off his best season from a statistical perspective, and the fact that he's a featured running back for coach Mike McCarthy only adds to his value. However, the veteran back does have a tough slate of 2010 games that includes matchups against the Vikings (2), Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, Patriots and Jets.
26. Marion Barber, Cowboys
Barber appears destined to lose carries (and perhaps his starting job) to Felix Jones next season. Whoever tops the depth chart heading into Week 1, he'll have a difficult slate of games to navigate. Aside from their NFC East rivals (Eagles, Giants, Redskins), this pair of backs also faces the Packers, Vikings and Jaguars.
27. Brandon Jacobs, Giants
Jacobs was a major disappointment last season, as injuries and the emergence of Ahmad Bradshaw damaged his value. The 2010 schedule won't do much to improve his appeal either, as Jacobs must face the Eagles (2), Cowboys (2), Jaguars, Packers and Vikings. He'll be seen as a risk-reward No. 2 fantasy back in most drafts.
28. Matt Forte, Bears
Forte was the biggest disappointment in fantasy football last season, and the addition of Taylor signals an imminent backfield committee under new coordinator Mike Martz. If that wasn't bad enough, Forte must also face matchups against the Packers (2), Vikings (2), Eagles, Cowboys, Redskins, Patriots and Jets.
29. LeSean McCoy, Eagles
McCoy has seen his value rise after the release of Brian Westbrook, and he'll no doubt be seen as a high-end No. 2 fantasy back in most drafts. He will have to endure a very difficult schedule, however, as matchups against the Cowboys (2), Redskins (2), Packers, Vikings and Jaguars aren't favorable based on our FPA rating.
30. Jerome Harrison, Browns
A hero for countless fantasy leaguers at the end of last season, Harrison is the favorite to start for coach Eric Mangini in 2010. There are questions about whether he can handle a heavier workload, however, and a schedule that includes the Ravens (2), Steelers (2), Bengals (2), Jets and Jaguars isn't favorable.
31. Kevin Smith, Lions
Smith is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery and could find himself in a backfield committee in 2010. Whatever the scenario, he'll be hard pressed to be a truly consistent and productive option for fantasy owners when faced with matchups against the Vikings (2), Packers (2), Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, Jets and Patriots.
32. Fred Jackson, Bills
--Michael Fabiano is a Fantasy Editor for NFL.com and he thinks that Jamaal Charles has a favorible Schedule AND that he's a great player! Just thought this might be of interest.