The Buffalo Bills earned high grades from analysts across the league for trading up two spots to land tight end Dalton Kincaid in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, but the odds are against the Utah standout having a breakout rookie season.
Kincaid is no doubt a special player, The Athletic‘s Dane Brugler called him “the best pure pass catcher in the entire draft.” However, the expectation for him to instantly become one of Bills quarterback Josh Allen‘s top targets may be unrealistic.
In assessing whether Buffalo improved their roster from last season, The Ringer‘s Sheil Kapadia wrote on Monday, May 8, “Offensively, the Bills finished second in DVOA last year, and they’ve been in the top 10 for three consecutive seasons, but they could use better line play and someone other than Stefon Diggs to threaten defenses. They traded up for tight end Dalton Kincaid in the first round, but expectations for Kincaid in the first year should be tempered.
“Tight ends selected in the first round over the past 10 years have produced 37.7 catches for 483.4 yards and 2.9 touchdowns on average as rookies. In other words, Kincaid can be a contributor, but history suggests he’s unlikely to become a true difference-maker immediately.”
In ranking the best tight ends selected in the first round since 2000, CBS Sports analyst Jeff Kerr pointed out there’s only been one rookie to truly have breakout year, Kyle Pitts, the Atlanta Falcons No. 4 overall pick in 2021.
“The only top-five selection at tight end this century, Pitts lived up to the status by having an incredible rookie season,” Kerr wrote. “Pitts joined Mike Ditka (1,076 yards in 1961) as the only rookie tight ends to record at least 1,000 receiving yards in NFL history, finishing with 68 catches for 1,026 yards and a touchdown (already the Falcons’ single-season record for tight ends in receiving yards).”
Pressure Is on Bills Offensive Coordinator Ken Dorsey to Implement Dalton Kincaid
While it usually takes time for a rookie tight end to find his stride on offense, Buffalo’s plan to utilize two tight ends could provide another wrinkle. An executive told The Athletic‘s Mike Sando that it’s on Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s shoulders to find a way to work the 6-foot-4 tight end into their scheme, which may be difficult to maneuver with Dawson Knox as TE1.
“Getting the player is one thing, deploying him is another,” the exec said. “When you start talking about the contenders, Buffalo is not necessarily going the other way, but they do rely too much on their quarterback. The key is going to be how well their coordinator is able to use two tight ends. You don’t see every coordinator do that well.”
Bills general manager Brandon Beane talked about having Kincaid on the field at the same time as Knox, but he also insinuated that may not happen right away.
“He’ll be a rookie; it’s gonna take him time,” Beane said, per Syracuse.com. “I think that [Kincaid’s role in the offense] is to be determined. I think it’s just another weapon for Dorsey. Dawson is gonna still be very involved. Dawson is a clearly better inline blocker, still a receiving threat. So I don’t think Dawson is gonna be going anywhere.”
Dalton Kincaid Can Still Be a Key Contributor His Rookie Season
While Kincaid may not have a 1,000-yard season, the 6-foot-4 and 242-pound tight end with 10 1/4-inch hands can still have a meaningful impact on offense.
Sando wrote, “If the Bills plateaued last season, can first-round tight end Dalton Kincaid help them get over the top in the AFC? Such a scenario has played out before. In 2005, Heath Miller caught 39 passes for 459 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie first-round tight end (30th overall choice), helping the Steelers to their first Super Bowl victory since the 1970s.”
While it’s unclear how exactly Kincaid will be utlitized his rookie year, Beane sees his talent in the slot, and compared him to Cole Beasley.
Kincaid, who played wide receiver in high school, is confident he can be the versatile player that Buffalo needs. “I feel like I’m just kind of diverse in what I can do,” he said. “I feel like you can line me up in the slot, in-line, you can spread me out. So I feel like one of my strengths is being able to do all that. And then, with that comes having to learn all that. So I like to pride myself on being smart. So I feel like that kind of ties in with what I do well on the field.”