Even in this year of running back depth, building a solid core remains important. Turnover at the position is always great -- it's like closers in baseball -- and it perplexes me how often an owner goes into the season with just two or three reliable running backs on the roster. A disturbing fact to consider: Only five running backs played all 16 of their team's games as the primary option in 2004 -- Shaun Alexander, Tiki Barber, Warrick Dunn, Rudi Johnson and Curtis Martin. Edgerrin James managed to sneak into 16 contests as well, but he's excluded because it was well known the Colts were pulling their starters early in Week 17.
Granted, I've already advised against putting too much stock into nabbing your running back's primary backup. (Whether you call it handcuffing or insuring a position -- I still prefer the latter -- it's one and the same.) Larry Johnson is already going 88th on average in live drafts, meaning in a 10-team league, he's a ninth-round pick. In larger leagues, it's even sooner. Is that too early? Perhaps. But if you're a Priest Holmes owner, you have to be prepared for the games he'll inevitably miss; he has missed 10 the past three seasons combined, mostly at the season's end, when most leagues have their title bouts.
Remember, draft value is all about your team's needs and your opinion of the players you're picking. Everyone has a different take on Holmes and Johnson; mine is that Johnson is clearly the best backup player in fantasy football, but picking a backup higher than 88th overall means you're hurting your starting lineup elsewhere. Later than that, he's a no-brainer, even if you don't own Holmes. In one of my recent drafts, Johnson slipped to 125th overall, and the guy who got him didn't even have Holmes; he had three running backs -- Barber, Corey Dillon and James -- who combined for 47 games played and 4,701 rushing yards in 2004. That's excellent value, a smart move and the kind of thing that could cause headaches for Holmes' owner, whose next-best running back is Warrick Dunn.