Two storylines dominated the 2022 Buffalo Bills season — the offense’s inability to find a pass catcher to take the role of Cole Beasley, and the offensive line’s failure to protect Josh Allen. The ability of the Bills to correct those issues will dictate whether the 2023 season can end on a better note than 2022.
Enter two rookies: tight end Dalton Kincaid and guard O’Cyrus Torrence. Both are slotted to play vital, contributing roles to the 2023 Buffalo offense. Will they be enough to push the Bills over the hump?
Dalton Kincaid in the slot
When the Bills’ offense first exploded onto the scene as a juggernaut in 2020, Josh Allen utilized slot receiver Cole Beasley immensely, and the Bills found success in the slot more than just about any team in the league. In 2020, Allen threw the second-most attempts to slot receivers and completed the second-most passes among all quarterbacks. By 2022, those numbers dropped 16th in attempts and 23rd in completion percentage. In 2020, Allen had a rating of 110 when targeting players within 10 yards, falling to 89 and 90 in 2021 and 2022. As Beasley aged and eventually left the Bills, an element of their offense that made them so efficient disappeared with it. With no more safety blanket, 2022 saw Allen attempt more risky throws, resulting in more interceptions.
So how will a rookie tight end help the Bills rediscover what they lost? To start, if you have followed training camp, you know Dalton Kincaid rarely dropped a ball in the preseason. Coming out of Utah, the Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote “I can easily make the argument Kincaid is the best pass catcher in the draft, regardless of position.”
And Kincaid lived up to the billing throughout camp, making catch after catch while playing with the first-team offense.
It is safe to project that he will be reliable when thrown the football, but how will he help fill the hole left by Beasley? Let’s look to the preseason for clues. Kincaid played 40 snaps in the preseason, 17 of which came in the slot. 18 came in line, but with 13 of Dawson Knox’s 18 preseason snaps coming in line as well, it is reasonable to assume Knox will line up primarily in line during the regular season.
And it is worth noting Kincaid will be competing for slot snaps with offseason addition Deonte Harty, who has an impressive resume in his own right. But what Kincaid finally offers the Bills a chance to use 12 (two tight end) personnel (or 11 1/2, as the Bills have coined.) Despite trying out players like Jacob Hollister and OJ Howard, the Bills have failed to find a tight end that allows them to play out of 12 personnel comfortably, ranking 32nd and 31st in the grouping usage the past two seasons. That number is almost guaranteed to go up with the addition of Kincaid.
O’Cryus Torrence at guard
Sean McDermott has somewhat unfairly earned the characterization of a coach unlikely to give rookies starting jobs, but there is some truth to that over the past couple of seasons, which makes O’Cyrus Torrence’s ascension past Ryan Bates all the more impressive. Bates never even got a preseason start over the rookie.
Torrence put out impressive preseason tape, proving to be a road grader who can clear room for running backs and a strong anchor to keep Allen upright, which should come as little surprise based on his college performance. Torrence gave up the 18th fewest pressures out of 189 qualifying guards in his senior season at Florida.
Many in the organization have taken notice. When talking about Torrence’s handling of silent snap counts, Allen said, “…he hasn’t flinched at all with it.”
When asked about Torrence’s offseason, McDermott told reporters, “There’s nothing Ryan didn’t do. It was more of Cybo [Torrence] coming in as a young player and again taking it one play at a time, having a workmanlike approach to his game early on in spring and then in training camp again.”
Kincaid and Torrence come in to fill two glaring holes from the 2022 season. As rookies, they earned the opportunity to change the Bills fortunes and get them over the Super Bowl hump. The current Bills roster lacks young, cheap talent. Hitting on two rookies would elevate the Bills’ play and help ease their current financial situation.
Whether they change the Bills’ fortunes will play out over the next 18 weeks, but there is plenty of reason to believe in the Bills’ new young core.