Spotlight - RB Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs
Posted 8/26 by Jason Wood and Mike Brown,
Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Jason Wood's Thoughts
A few years ago, I posted a lengthy analysis of Priest Holmes in our Forums, which piqued the interest of Joe Bryant and we struck up a conversation. That led to my penning a lengthy article for the site discussing the historical success of RBs with 2,000+ yards from scrimmage the following year. I won't bore you with all the details but essentially it said...if a back goes for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in Year N, he's going to be a stud again in Year N+1 barring injury.
I was labeled a Priest evangelist for a time and the last few years it's been a pleasurable and easy ride. After all, the guy is just about the most productive scorer we've seen in a long, long time.
But entering the 2005 season, I find myself wondering if it's time to turn the other cheek on a guy who has scored 76 touchdowns in the last four seasons. 76 Touchdowns...can I really make the case to stay away from him on draft day?
I'm going to try.
Here's the thing about the NFL, it's a cruel sport. Legends become ordinary men seemingly overnight. The greatest all too often become the also rans. Yet, as fans, we rarely see it coming. Let's take a look at the following situation:
Marshall Faulk -- In 2001, Faulk finished as the top rated fantasy back for the second consecutive season (he finished 2nd in 1999) and was widely considered the best player in football. He was the consensus top fantasy selection prior to the 2002 season. In 2002, Faulk struggled with various injuries but managed to play 14 games. His year end totals were:
- 212 carries (-48 from the prior year)
- 952 yards rushing (-429 yards)
- 80 receptions (-3)
- 537 yards receiving (-228)
- 10 TDs (-11...he has 21 the year before)
- RB14 fantasy ranking
To be clear, you might look at his 14th place finish and think, "he didn't do too badly." BUT, you have to remember, almost everyone that had Faulk that year used the FIRST OVERALL DRAFT CHOICE ON HIM. When you're picking at the top, and your guy doesn't factor into the top 5 let alone 10 at his position, it's tough to vie for a title.
But where the real lesson learned is what happened the FOLLOWING SEASON.
As I said earlier, people never see it coming, even when the evidence is right in front of their faces. In 2003, coming off that injury plagued 14th place finish, Faulk STILL factored into the top 5 overall draft picks. (Sound familiar yet?). People's rationale was, "Faulk is a STUD when healthy and even last year, NOT healthy, he was decent. Now that he's healthy again, how can I NOT pick him?"
Well, those people were sorely disappointed. Because in 2003, Faulk played 11 games, rushed just 209 times, averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, saw his receiving yardage cut in half and ended up the 16th ranked RB.
So what does this have to do with Priest Holmes? EVERYTHING. Two years ago Priest was, as usual, a fantasy stud. He scored 27 touchdowns, racked up 2,110 yards from scrimmage and was the top rated fantasy back. So, as expected he went 1st or 2nd in just about every draft a year ago. Well, through half a season people were rewarded. But he missed the last eight games finishing the year with a little over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs and a 12th place fantasy ranking. So, all preseason long I've been hearing, "Priest is a stud, IF he weren't hurt last year he would've been the guy again. HOW CAN I PASS ON HIM IF HE FALLS TO ME?"
Remember Marshall Faulk and answer that question for yourself. And don't think Faulk's situation was an anomaly. It happened to Eric Dickerson. No one thought his 1989 season would be his last 1,000 yard year, but it was. No one saw Emmitt's fantasy dominance coming to an end before the 2000 draft. Fact is, when you're dealing with such rarefied performances as Priest and Faulk, it's nearly impossible to see the signs of decline before they you've paid dearly with a bad fantasy season. In fact, even I would draft Priest if he fell to the sixth or seventh pick, because half a season of his numbers with a decent injury fill in the rest of the way is better than most. BUT...if you're thinking of using the 2nd or 3rd overall pick on him, really, REALLY think about what kind of odds he's going to have to beat in order to deliver the value commensurate with that position.
- Priest is clearly one of the most productive fantasy players in history when he's healthy, he's an ideal fit for the system and the team's go-to figure in the red zone
- The Chiefs defense should be marginally improved at a minimum, which may mean more carries for Priest late in games as the Chiefs play less shoot outs
- The Chiefs offensive line is the best in the business
- Last year could have been an injury fluke, OR it could've been the signal that his run of dominance is at an end...remember, getting top 12 production from a guy you take 3rd overall is NOT going to help you win many leagues
- The offensive line is dominant, but aging. Will Shields seriously considered retirement, Willie Roaf is on the wrong side of 30 and Casey Wiegmann is 32.
- Larry Johnson proved capable of filling in at a high level, and that may prompt Vermeil to lighten Priest's workload, particularly late in games
I'm not a foolish man (or at least I hope I'm not). My intent is not to tell you that Priest Holmes WILL fall off this year but rather to point out to you that it's really not any less likely than it would be for him to bounce back and play a full 16 games at his 2002-2003 level. My draft strategy is typically to minimize risk (as much as humanly possible) in the early rounds and then roll the dice late with high risk/high upside players. Because of that, I just can't see drafting Holmes in the top 3. Would I be shocked if he finished that high? NO. But I also wouldn't be shocked if he fell out of the top 10. Because of that, I'm hoping for one of two things. 1) That I get the 1st or 2nd pick (so I can take Tomlinson or Alexander) or 2) That I get the 6th pick or later (so someone else can take Priest before I have a chance to consider it).
Mike Brown's Thoughts
Stop me if youíve heard this one before:
Priest Holmes is one of the most intriguing players in fantasy football this year.
It seems as if every year for the past three or so, Priest Holmes is the most-talked about player on the fantasy draft board. Whether itís because of an inability to stay healthy the previous season or a fear about staying healthy for the upcoming season, Holmes canít seem to grab a hold of that consensus #1 overall slot.
This year is no different, as Holmes is coming off a season which saw him compile some incredible numbers but suffer a serious injury that kept him out for 8 games.
It seems as if you can ask ten different owners on Holmes and get ten distinctly differing opinions on his outlook. Heck, you could ask ONE owner what they think of Holmes and get ten different answers from just that one person!
Since there is no questioning what Holmes can do when healthy, about the only question left is how you should go about approaching the possibility of drafting him. Before we do that, we need to consider some of the upside/downside to taking him.
- Despite playing just a half of a season, Holmes was STILL the 12th-ranked fantasy running back. That is unreal.
- The Chiefs offense isnít dropping off anytime soon, and may be its best version yet this year, as the WR corps is more experienced and the line has more continuity than last year.
- Despite being older than most other feature backs, he has taken much less of a pounding due to A) Fewer carries early in his career, and B) Scoring a touchdown on every single carry heís had the past three years (ok, Iím kidding about that one but it certainly seems like it).
- If youíre able to land Larry Johnson in your draft as a handcuff, youíre all but guaranteed to have the top running back in fantasy football.
- Of course, if you DONíT get Johnson, the stress may kill you before the season ends.
- Heíll turn 32 during the season. As both Curtis Martin and Priest himself demonstrated so emphatically last year, post-30 running backs can still maintain their effectiveness. But itís almost unheard of to maintain this type of production for anyone, let alone one who is going to be 32.
- Assuming you go with the Holmes/Johnson handcuff, perhaps the worst-case scenario is that Holmes stays relatively healthy, but not completely. If heís a little bit banged-up, there may be some tough choices to make on a weekly basis with regard to questionable/doubtful listings in the injury report. Or he may play just enough to compile good stats, but not the incredible ones weíve grown accustomed to.
- Dick Vermeil has the Chiefs poised for a playoff run. The best chance for both late-season success and playoff success is a healthy Holmes. The best way to go about that is by limiting his carries during the regular season. In fact, the practice of resting Priest has already begun, as he has significantly cut back on his workouts during training camp thus far.
- Holmes has a tendency to get banged up during the season. He has missed significant portions in two of the last three seasons,
Oh the decisions we must make. Whatís an owner to do about the Holmes situation? Here are the options:
Option #1: Bypass Holmes entirely, regardless of where you draft.
This option isnít advisable; because if thereís one thing weíve learned, itís that every player has value at some point. You donít want to miss out on potential greatness merely for the sake of being stubborn.
-Draft Holmes, and make sure to handcuff him to Johnson
This seems to be the most common idea of owners for 2005. The thinking is that if you get Holmes, you must get Johnson. Otherwise, youíre inviting disaster.
-Draft Holmes, disregard Johnson, and hope for the best.
The third option is interesting, because itís the biggest roll of the dice there is.
Most owners/experts (myself included) have advised that if you get Holmes, you MUST get Johnson to handcuff him. After all, if Holmes goes down with an injury, youíd be finished if you didnít have Johnson, right? But doesnít the same hold true of ANY first round pick? What if you take Tomlinson and he gets hurt? Or Shaun Alexander? Or Deuce McAllister? None of those players has a stud backup to handcuff to. So the risk in not getting the backup to Holmes isnít as significant as one might think, because if you go with James or Portis, youíre probably screwed anyway if they get hurt. Thus, you might as well go with the guy that has the highest upside now.
Furthermore, since all players are inherently injury prone based on the fact that they play in the NFL, you may only be an injury to someone elseís RB to rectify your own situation anyway. Remember, Marshall Faulk used to be considered durable, and Fred Taylor was considered an injury risk years ago (and then proceeded to play 47 consecutive games over the course of nearly three seasons). So you canít marry yourself to the decision to use two picks for your one position.
So what about drafting both he and Johnson? Is it worth it to use a fifth rounder on a backup RB? Well, the difference in points between Holmes and the other options at 1.04 may in fact be greater than the difference between whatever WR or QB youíd take in the 5th round and the one you will take later on. So can we have that in English? Sure.
If you draft Holmes in the first and Johnson in the 5th, that would mean you wouldnít be drafting a 5th-round caliber WR or QB in round 5 (because youíd have to use that pick on Johnson). So youíd be drafting your WR2 in say, the 8th or 9th round. Meanwhile, if you take a ďsafeĒ back in Round 1 and a typical WR2 or QB1 in the 5th, youíd actually accumulate fewer points overall, on average. So despite ďwastingĒ a pick in the 5th round on a backup, youíre actually gaining a ton because of how much better the Holmes/Johnson combo is than any other back you could take in Round 1. Besides, letís say the fifth round comes and someone else uses their pick on Larry Johnson. Fine! That person is at a much bigger disadvantage than you are. Their pick ONLY has value if Holmes suffers a serious injury. And their depth and overall team will be much worse overall, because they donít have Holmes in their lineup to make up the difference between who they would have taken in Round 5 and who they actually end up taking. So not only is it ok to miss out on Johnson, but if someone else gets him besides you at that juncture, then thatís one fewer team you likely have to worry about winning the league!
I must admit, I was amongst the non-believers in Holmes as recently as a month ago. But now that it appears heís going to be ďthe manĒ regularly, and Iím slowly beginning to warm to the idea of drafting Holmes and Johnson in tandem. And as I mentioned earlier, even if you decide you donít want to waste a 5th rounder on Johnson, you can still take Holmes and hope for the best because his injury risk isnít significantly higher than most other backs in the league.
At one point, I was ready to say I wouldnít touch Holmes in any league, because I couldnít see myself relying so heavily on just one player and I didnít want to throw away my fifth round pick (which would only be worthwhile if my top guy got hurt). But as I said, Iím coming around because of having things presented in a new light. Itís part of the way to be successful at fantasy. We all like to think we have all of the answers in May, but often things change during a summer, a month, or even a couple of weeks! At this point, when you have an opportunity to take a player who can win you your league and you can get him towards the middle of the first round, you have to give serious consideration to doing it. Do the math, see if itíd work for you to take the hit on team depth in order to get far and away the top RB, and draw your own conclusions. But at least give it consideration, rather than disregarding the idea like I did initially. I still wouldnít take him any higher than 5th overall because I like the guys ahead of him enough and I donít like to put all of my eggs in one proverbial basket, but donít rule out taking the most dynamic player in the game. The quote ďYou canít win the league in the first round, but you can lose itĒ does not apply here ĖHolmes CAN win you your league.
Quotations from the Message Board Thread
To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there),
The problem with Holmes is he keeps missing time at the end of the season, which is playoff time. As such, I don't think the numbers accurately reflect his value. Sure, he will get you into the postseason, guaranteed... but he'll vanish as soon as you get there. I'd much rather get a back that averages 20 ppg over the entire season than a guy who averages 30 for the first 12 games and then misses the last 4 entirely.
A lot of fantasy owners point out Priest's age (32) as the red flag pointing to a decline in production. But, as an eight year veteran, Priest has less miles than most running backs his age due to his time in Baltimore. To illustrate, LaDainian Tomlinson who has been in the league four years, has 1363 career carries. Priest has just 252 more than Tomlinson (1615 total), which is less than one season of production for either feature back.
Age and injuries become a collage of danger if you look at them all at once, but if you dissect each area it can clear things up. As you said, the hip should be the only lingering concern, and that hasn't been an issue since it happened. His age is not a factor for the upcoming season--Priest is in excellent physical condition, and guys like Martin and Dillon, who have taken much more serious poundings over the years, don't seem to be running down any time soon. How many times does Priest take a vicious blow? He usually scampering towards the sideline on a toss or diving into the end zone untouched. As long as Priest gets 20 touches a game, he is miles ahead of anyone in the league and will singlehandedly vault you into the playoffs.
Priest Holmes Projections
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