The year was 2000, and the Baltimore Ravens had just won Super Bowl XXXV, but Priest Holmes was ready to leave the Ravens after four years. Holmes was never given the chance to truly succeed in Baltimore, and in 2001 he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Over the next three seasons Priest became the most dominating fantasy running back in the game.
Priest was undrafted in 1997 when he signed on with the Baltimore Ravens, and in 1998 he got his chance to be the lead back. Holmes was used sparingly during the first three games of the season as Jay Graham, the Ravens third round pick in 1997, was given the keys to the car. An injury ended his season, and opened the door for Priest. In week four against the Cincinnati Bengals Holmes made his first statement to the NFL. Priest carried the ball 27 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns. There was just something about those Bengals, because when they met again in week 11 Holmes upped the ante. Priest lit the Bengals defense up to the tune of 227 yards on 36 carries with a score. He finished the season with 1,008 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Holmes was not able to make it through the entire 1999 season, and Erict Rhett ended up leading the Ravens rushing attack. Priest thought he would get his chance again in 2000, but Baltimore drafted Jamal Lewis with the fifth overall pick, which immediately made Holmes the backup. After an impressive rookie season by Lewis, Holmes was shopping for a new home, and he found one in Kansas City.
The Chiefs had struggled in 2000, and they hired Dick Vermeil to help turn the team around. Vermeil was known for the outstanding job he did a few years back with the St. Louis Rams and Marshall Faulk. The Chiefs roster was very weak at running back, with Tony Richardson, Kimball Anders and Frank Moreau as their leading carriers from the previous season. Vermeil saw the potential in Holmes, and the fact that he was hardly used by the Ravens allowed Kansas City to sign Priest at a bargain price, five years for $7.548 million. That would look like a real bargain as Holmes destroyed the league over the next three seasons.
Priest became the workhorse back for Vermeil in the Chiefs offense, and averaged 389 touches per year from 2001-2003. Holmes drew first blood in week three on the road in Washington. Priest torched the Redskins defense for 147 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns, but he also added five catches for 78 yards and another touchdown. Holmes had seven games with 100 or more yards rushing, but had 11 games with over 100 yards rushing and receiving. #31 would finish the season with 1,555 rushing yards, which would lead the league, but he added 62 catches for 614 yards for an astounding 2,169 yards from scrimmage. Holmes had 10 touchdowns on the season, which most running backs would be happy with, but that did not satisfy him, so he went berserk over the next two years.
In 2002 Holmes would play in just 14 games, but he made the most of them. Priest had over 100 yards rushing in 9 games, while being held under 100 total yards just once on the entire season. The biggest difference in his game this year was his knack for scoring touchdowns. #31 hit pay dirt in 12 of 14 games on the season, and had two or more touchdowns in seven games. The Priest blessed his fantasy owners with his final five games of the season. Holmes ran for over 100 yards in every game and had 707 rushing yards during the streak. While those numbers look great, they only paint half the picture, because Holmes was such a deadly receiver as well. His total yardage gained during this five game stretch was 934 yards, which is a staggering 186.8 yards per game. Let’s not forget that he was a touchdown machine, and had eight scores over those final five games. He finished the season with 1,615 rushing yards and 2,287 yards from scrimmage with a ridiculous 24 touchdowns in just 14 games. His fantasy owners loved him throughout the season, but missing week 15 likely cost his fantasy owners their championships that season. For all that disappointment, he would make it up and then some for those who drafted him in fantasy leagues the following year.
Priest entered the 2003 season with a huge target on his back, but was once again more than up to the challenge. Defenses were focusing their attention to slow down Holmes in the rushing game, and they were able to do that, as #31 only had three 100-yard rushing games on the season. Although, he would once again do a ton of damage as a receiver, and had over 100 yards from scrimmage in 13 of 16 games on the year. Priest continued to be a scoring demon and had 10 games with two touchdowns or more, but for the fantasy owners who he disappointed the season before he saved his best for last. Over the final five games of the season Holmes scored 12 touchdowns, and had at least two scores in each of those games, pure dominance. That mad touchdown run helped him set the record for most touchdowns scored in a season with 27. That record would go on to be broken by Shaun Alexander, and then LaDainian Tomlinson who now holds the record with 28 rushing scores. Priest finished the season with 2,110 yards from scrimmage to go along with those 27 scores. From 2002-2003 Priest scored a touchdown in 25 of 30 games, but had two or more scores in 17 of 30 games en route to his two-year 51-touchdown total.
The following year Holmes was once again on track for a great year. Through the first eight games of the season Priest had 1,079 yards from scrimmage with 14 rushing scores and 15 total scores before an injury ended his season, and eventually his career after just two more seasons.
During this three-year span Holmes played in 46 games, had 1,166 touches for 6,566 yards and 61 touchdowns. That is an unfathomable average of 2,189 yards from scrimmage, with 20.3 scores per year. Another way to look at this dominance is to note that Holmes averaged 142.74 yards and 1.33 touchdowns every time he took the field. Priest had over 100 yards from scrimmage in 37 of those 46 games, and had at least 50 yards receiving in 20 of them.
Holmes was an absolute beast during this three year run, and it could have been so much more if his career had not been stopped short by a devastating injury. While his time in the spotlight was short, his light shined brighter than all others during this made run. The fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, and all of us football fans were blessed to be able watch Priest play.