Two veterans that have been stashed on the Bills practice squad are set to make their season debuts for the team this week. Buffalo has elevated cornerback Xavier Rhodes and running back Duke Johnson for this weekend’s matchup against the Vikings.
The Bills are extremely deep at cornerback, but an injury to first-round rookie Kaiir Elam has him currently listed as doubtful going into Sunday. With Elam out, Dane Jackson would be expected to start opposite Tre’Davious White at cornerback, with Taron Johnson and Siran Neal providing key snaps off the bench. That’s still a reliable amount of depth but adding the veteran Rhodes will provide the Bills with just a bit more security if Elam can’t play.
This has been an interestingly quiet season for Rhodes, who started at least 13 games in every season dating back to his sophomore season before this year. The longtime shutdown cornerback for the Vikings spent two years doing more of the same in Indianapolis before signing to the Bills practice squad in the offseason. After eight years as a fulltime starter, coming in off the practice squad is an unfamiliar role for the 32-year-old.
The Bills traded for another former Colt in running back Nyheim Hines at the deadline in an attempt to bring in a back who can catch passes out of the backfield, something that the team was lacking with Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, and James Cook. The elevation of Johnson from the practice squad may indicate that Hines is not totally comfortable enough with the playbook to take hold of that role yet.
Johnson spent the majority of his career as one of the league’s premier pass-catching running backs. Over his career, Johnson has more receiving yards (2,870) than rushing yards (2,261). He’s an effective weapon, even at 29-years-old, that the Bills have kept stashed on the practice squad all year. Johnson was given an opportunity to start for a depleted Dolphins team last year and rewarded them with two 100-yard rushing performances and three touchdowns in four starts.
Many, including NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, noted that Buffalo was not elevating quarterback Matt Barkley, indicating that the team is confident that starter Josh Allen will be able to play after sustaining an elbow sprain last week. Allen had been limited in practice this week but was able to grip the ball and provide enough for the Bills staff to show that he can start.