The Buffalo Bills have reworked their running back room over the course of this offseason, prioritizing speedy players in a way that they really haven’t under head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane. In the past, it seemed that Buffalo was content to sign players at the running back position who could guarantee them four yards rather than someone who may dance a bit and break off big plays while also losing ground on certain carries.
Regardless of our feelings about how the team has handled the position, the injury to kick returner/passing game weapon/gadget guy Nyheim Hines clearly threw a monkey wrench into the team’s plans at the position. Buffalo has added players on the back end of the depth chart as a result, and Hines’ absence has given some other players a chance to make the team they may not otherwise have had.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss the newest addition to Buffalo’s running back group — a familiar name thanks to his association with a bitter rival over the last few years.
Name: Ty Johnson
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 210 pounds
Age: 25 (26 on 9/17/2023)
Acquired: Signed with Buffalo on 8/21/2023
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Given how recently Johnson signed, we don’t know exact details yet; however, we assume it’s a one-year deal with minimal or no guarantees at the veteran’s minimum salary. For someone with Johnson’s experience, that salary is $1.08 million.
2022 Recap: Johnson followed up a very productive 2021 season with a statistical dud in 2022, as he saw his carries cut in half from the year prior and his reception total dropped to a third of his 2021 production. Much of that was due to the emergence of rookie Breece Hall, but even after Hall tore his ACL, Johnson saw limited time on offense. He appeared on only 173 offensive snaps last season after playing on 406 offensive snaps in 2021. Similarly, his special teams usage increased, as he went from playing on 95 special teams snaps in 2021 to 192 special teams snaps in 2022. He finished the 2022 season with just 30 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown, adding 12 receptions for 88 yards on 24 targets. He had two special teams tackles and returned three kickoffs for a total of 39 yards.
Positional outlook: Johnson joins James Cook, Latavius Murray, Darrynton Evans, and Jordan Mims as the healthy running backs on the current roster. Damien Harris has missed time with a knee injury, and he has not played in a preseason game. Fullback Reggie Gilliam is the other member of the backfield.
2023 Offseason: Johnson was released by the Jets in April with a non-football injury designation. He had torn a pectoral muscle in an offseason workout prior to his release.
2023 Season outlook: Johnson has shown flashes at the professional level. He has great speed (4.4-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day in 2019) and he has shown the ability to be a good receiver out of the backfield, as well. In 2021, he caught 34 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns while with the Jets. In 95 touches that season, he averaged 6.4 yards per touch on his way to 610 scrimmage yards. His signing is probably to add insurance in the event that something happens to either Evans or Mims in the last preseason game, but it also gives Buffalo the advantage of putting a solid player in the system prior to the scrum that is final cutdowns. If the injury to Harris is worse than coaches are letting on, perhaps Johnson could parlay this opportunity into a shot at the RB3 role while Harris heals. However, it’s more likely that this will be an audition for Buffalo’s practice squad, as well as the rest of the league, during the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears on Saturday.