Not a whole lot is made of rookie seventh-round draft picks. Heck they're sometimes fortunate just to make the 53-man roster. But following a strong preseason finale that earned him a roster spot in September, receiver Steve Johnson is getting similar consideration entering the back half of Buffalo's 2008 schedule.
Active in the past two games prior to Monday night, Johnson was getting sprinkled into the offensive lineup and began lining up in the slot a bit more against the Patriots in Week 10. Though he only recorded one reception for 15 yards, the coaching staff must have liked what they saw on tape.
On Monday night Johnson started as the Bills came out in a three wide formation with Johnson lined up inside most of the night.
But things didn't get off to the best start. The first time a ball came his way was on a 3rd-and-3 at the Cleveland 44-yard line near the end of the first quarter, and Johnson couldn't hold onto it leading to a Bills punt.
Fortunately two series later Johnson factored into a field goal drive at the end of the half with an 11-yard reception on a crossing route that went for a first down.
On Buffalo's first possession of the second half Johnson would make his biggest play of the game, pulling in a 21-yard reception in the deep middle moving the offense into Cleveland territory. Unfortunately for the Bills they turned the ball over on a fumble two plays later.
Johnson was targeted just two more times by Trent Edwards in the game, but his third and final catch came on Buffalo's final touchdown drive as he moved the chains with a nine-yard reception over the middle for a first down.
Three receptions for 41 yards certainly isn't a big game by NFL standards, but for Johnson whose opportunities have been few and far between he doubled his reception total for the season.
"I just wanted to let them know that I can play and that I can contribute," said Johnson. "And they put me out there and I had a dropped pass but at the same time, I felt like I made a few other plays that let them know I can contribute to this team."
Where Johnson is likely to continue to contribute is in the slot. With Josh Reed still recovering from a high ankle sprain, Johnson with his 6'2" 202-pound frame is capable of shielding incoming passes from defenders and blocking in the run game.
"He's got good size, he's really strong, he runs good routes," said an AFC scout. "He's got strong hands and can pluck the ball and he's strong after the catch. He's an interesting player."
Knowing seventh-round draft picks never really get a lot of opportunities on game day, Johnson just kept his nose to the grindstone and worked on improving in the practice setting. And that hard work is beginning to pay off.
"Every week you have to go out and practice as if you will be starting or getting a majority of the snaps," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter if you are last on the roster. You just have to go out and practice and work hard because you never really know what's going to happen on Sunday."
Or in this case on Monday night.
"I think he's got a really good future," said head coach Dick Jauron of Johnson. "I really do. I think he's going to be a player."