Duke Johnson has done everything the Buffalo Bills have asked him to this preseason, and it still may not be enough to earn him a spot on the final roster.
The 28-year-old was signed this offseason to bring a veteran presence and some competition to a struggling running back room. He has performed well during the preseason, both as a rusher and kick returner, but unexpectedly strong showings from some competitors could mean that Johnson’s path to a roster spot will be blocked.
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Johnson Not Projected on Final 53-Man Roster
Johnson performed well in the preseason, rushing for 84 yards over three games. Most of Johnson’s action came with the second- and third-team offense, however, as Buffalo prioritized early snaps to other running backs.
The solid performances may not be enough for Johnson to earn a spot on the team. After Buffalo’s loss on August 26 in the preseason finale, The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia made a projection of the team’s final 53-man roster. Buscaglia predicted that the Bills would keep four running backs, but Johnson did not make the cut.
He noted that Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, and rookie James Cook appear to be set as the top three, and veteran Taiwan Jones will earn a place thanks to his importance to special teams.
Others agree with Buscaglia’s assessment. WKBW’s Matt Bove also projected that Johnson would not make the final roster, thanks in large part to a resurgence from Zack Moss. The third-year running back had a strong rookie year but took a step back in his second season as he dealt with the lingering effects of a broken ankle.
As Bove noted, Moss has performed well enough in training camp and preseason games to earn split carries this season.
“Zack Moss has spent the summer reminding us that he’s still around and ready to contribute to the Bills this season,” Bove wrote. “What was once viewed as a competition between Singletary and Cook now includes Moss. The third-year running back has impressed during the preseason and provides the Bills with a player who can carry the load in short-yardage situations.”
Johnson’s versatility could give him an advantage in the bid for a spot on the 53-man roster. In addition to his snaps on offense, Johnson also played a significant role on special teams, both as a punt and kick returner and on the coverage units.
The Bills have shown a willingness to keep veteran players that contribute primarily on special teams, which includes both Jones and wide receiver Jake Kumerow.
Johnson Could Still Find Spot on Practice Squad
There could still be hope for Johnson in Buffalo. Buscaglia predicted that both he and rookie running back Raheem Blackshear could ultimately land with Buffalo’s practice squad after being cut.
“Johnson and Blackshear will be excellent practice squad candidates,” he wrote. “Running backs rarely get claimed on waivers, so the Bills should be safe getting Blackshear through the massive wave of final cuts.”
Blackshear, who came to the Bills as an undrafted rookie free agent, has been one of the biggest surprises of the preseason. The Virginia Tech running back led the team with 116 total rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. He added another eight catches for 88 yards.