There are always a few roles that go unappreciated on an NFL roster. The fifth and sixth receivers, the versatile reserve offensive linemen, or the reserve safety that can double as a linebacker in a pinch.
The third-string running back is another one of those. The Buffalo Bills have made use of the role over the last few years, either as a breeding ground for new talent (Mike Gillislee) or a way to slowly bring along a talented rookie (Jonathan Williams). This year, the role could go to the unheralded free agent signee who has turned heads with his minicamp work.
Name: Cedric O’Neal
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 215 lbs
College: Valdosta State
Draft: UDFA (2016)
Financial Situation (per Spotrac): O’Neal is on a two-year deal that will pay him the league minimum of $465,000 this year. He has no guaranteed money in his contract.
2016 Recap: O’Neal was an undrafted pickup by the Philadelphia Eagles last year, but was let go prior to the start of the regular season. He spent the rest of the year out of football.
Positional Outlook: Setting aside the fullbacks, the Bills have five running backs on the roster right now. LeSean McCoy isn’t going anywhere, and Jonathan Williams is a safe bet to make the final roster. That leaves three guys fighting for no more than one roster spot: O’Neal, veteran Joe Banyard, and UDFA Jordan Johnson.
2017 Offseason: If you believe offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, it looks like O’Neal might be running in the third spot on the depth chart already. He’s been earning accolades from the media all offseason.
2017 Season Outlook: If O’Neal can keep that momentum going into training camp and through the preseason, he should be able to land on the 53. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of competition for the third running back spot, so the biggest threat to O’Neal might be the need for increased depth at another position.
I’m not saying he’s going to blow up Gillislee-style when he sees action during the regular season. He’ll probably be inactive for a decent chunk of games. However, when he plays he should end up being about as reliable as anyone could expect for a third-string running back.