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90 Buffalo Bills players in 90 days: RB Duke Johnson

Can the veteran receiving back beat out a younger player for roster space?

NFL: JAN 09 Patriots at Dolphins Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills wanted to add a complementary back this offseason, as they targeted a receiving back early on in the process. When they agreed to terms with J.D. McKissic, the team was clearly happy that they had achieved the goal of adding a solid receiver out of the backfield for quarterback Josh Allen.

Then, McKissic had a change of heart, general manager Brandon Beane gave an angry press conference, and the team had to go in a different direction. One could argue that Buffalo made out in the end given the totality of the additions they made, but it’s interesting to wonder what the team would have done had McKissic signed his contract.

In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss the veteran signed as a “Plan B” to McKissic.


Name: Duke Johnson

Number: 22

Position: RB

Height/Weight: 5’9” 210 lbs

Age: 28 (29 on 9/23/2022)

Experience/Draft: 8; selected in the third round (No. 77 overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns

College: Miami

Acquired: Signed as UFA with Bills on 3/22/2022

Financial situation (per Spotrac): Johnson’s one-year contract is worth a total of $1,272,500, of which $377,500 is guaranteed. For the year, he carries a cap hit of $1,047,500 if he makes the 53-man roster.

2021 Recap: Johnson began the year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, signing with their practice squad on September 6. He was released on September 16 without having appeared in a game. Johnson then signed with the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad on October 26. He ended up appearing in five games for Miami, including the final four games where he served as the team’s lead back. In those last four games, he eclipsed 100 yards rushing twice—once against the New York Jets and then again against the New England Patriots. He rushed 71 times for 330 yards and three touchdowns. Somewhat surprisingly, he only caught four passes for 41 yards.

Positional outlook: Johnson joins a backfield that has four returning players—Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones, and Reggie Gilliam—and two rookies. The newcomers are third-round pick James Cook and undrafted free agent Raheem Blackshear.

2022 Offseason: Johnson is healthy and he has participated in OTAs.

2022 Season outlook: In all probability, the Bills carry Singletary, Cook, Moss, Jones, and Gilliam on the final roster. However, we can’t write Johnson off, as he has shown time and again throughout his career that he is a far superior option to Moss, whose skillset is a tad redundant with Singletary manning the majority of the snaps. The greatest value Moss has is wrapped into his youth and his contract. Johnson is probably auditioning for a spot elsewhere, but if the team were to decide to keep him over Jones or Moss, I wouldn’t complain.