2023 NFL Draft: Can Bills fit ‘elite’ TE Dalton Kincaid into the puzzle?


Brandon Beane did it again.

The ever-antsy and uber-aggressive General Manager of the Buffalo Bills once again found himself smitten with a prospect and moved up to snag him. This time, it’s tight end Dalton Kincaid, the electric Utah product who’s drawn comparisons to future Hall of Famer, Travis Kelce.

Leading up to the draft, it was the popular belief among fans that a receiver would wind up in Buffalo, but nearly nobody saw this kind of receiver ultimately being the selection. After Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Quinten Johnston, Zay Flowers and Jordan Addison were taken back-to-back-to-back-to-back, Beane sent a fourth-round draft pick to the Jaguars, jumping the Dallas Cowboys, who likely had their eyes set on Kincaid as well.

“If Dalton wasn’t there, we were going to trade back,” Beane told the media after the selection. “But we had a good feeling that Dallas would take him. We just really liked him and thought that he’d be a great fit in our offense.” Beane later added, “If we thought he would be there, I would have been patient, but he was the one player, that I thought the team in front of us, had a lot of love for. Us trading up tells you we value him. There were other defensive players around, but he was the best player available, in our opinion.”

Fans needed a moment to digest once the pick was announced, as the thousands of mock drafts had Buffalo going wideout, linebacker, defensive tackle, or even defensive end. Tight end wasn’t on the radar of most analysts, considering that the Bills just gave Dawson Knox – a pretty darn good player – a large contract that pays him $12 million per year. While Kincaid most certainly is a tight end, Beane envisions the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder as a big slot option, more than a traditional tight end.

“He’s a tight end, but he’s a receiving tight end,” Beane explained. “We think he’ll pair well with Dawson (Knox) to give us another target in the middle of the field. When he and Dawson are on the field, it’s technically 12 (personnel) but it’s quasi-11. He’s not your standard Y tight end, he’s going to be flexed out wide more than we use Dawson.”

Kincaid primarily served as a slot receiver during his collegiate career, although he did line up attached to the offensive line on 375 snaps. However, when Utah was throwing, Kincaid was in the slot on 55.1 percent of those plays. He was extremely productive, hauling in 106 passes for 1,400 yards and 16 tight ends in his two seasons as a starter.

“(He has) Elite hands,” Beane said of Kincaid. “Really good route runner, good feel setting up guys inside. … You guys saw it from a different position (in) Cole Beasley. … (Kincaid) in a different body type does that. I would say the number one thing about him is elite hands, good route runner, and separation ability at the top of the route.”

Comparing Kincaid – who’s significantly larger than the 5-foot-8, 174-pound Beasley – to the departed slot receiver is a testament to just how fluid of an athlete the 23-year-old is. When Beasley signed with the Bills, he was in his prime and one of the best slots in the league. He was a reliable safety valve for Josh Allen, particularly in the middle of the field.

In 2021, Allen completed 73 percent of his 300 pass attempts between the hashes for 2,567 yards, tossing 22 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Last season, Allen completed 74 percent of his 258 attempts for 2,314 yards, throwing 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The completion percentage and yards are similar, but it was clear throughout the season that Allen didn’t have somebody that he could consistently trust in critical third down or shorter yardage situations to get the ball to, and the offense sputtered as a result.

Kincaid, while a totally different type of player than Beasley, possesses similar separation skills while adding size, high-point ability, and the speed to gain yards after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, Kincaid gained 509 yards and four touchdowns on passes that traveled 0-9 yards, with 38 receptions coming over the middle of the field.

But where Buffalo’s offense may be able to bounce back in a big way with the addition of Kincaid is on deep passes over the middle of the field. Allen was lethal on these passes of 10-plus yards during the 2021 season, completing 66-of-101 passes for 1,344 yards, throwing 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Last season, Allen threw for 1,198 yards, but just nine touchdowns and five picks. During Kincaid’s career, he’s reeled in 20-of-29 passes of 10-plus yards for 429 yards and five touchdowns, gaining an additional 115 yards after the catch.

2023 NFL Draft: Despite initial shock, Dalton Kincaid selection will pay dividends for Bills

The biggest question that stems from Kincaid’s selection is whether or not offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey will find a way to maximize not just one tight end – which he struggled to do at times last season – but two. Knox is one of the better multipurpose tight ends in the NFL. He’s productive when targeted, but aligned as an inline player on just 31.5 of% of passing plays – the 34th ranked number among tight ends that played 20% of their team’s snaps. The addition of Kincaid makes Knox almost a full-time in-line player. Knox thrives in this role, as he’s a dominant blocker in the run game and can chip and get open in the passing game as well. But is that role worth $12 million per season? We’ll see.

Beane cited the mismatches that the team can now dictate from a personnel standpoint, acknowledging that since Kincaid is primarily a receiver, defenses will need to decide whether to defend them with a base look or with nickel.

“I think he pairs well in our offense,” said Beane. “It’s something we don’t have. Generally when you’re in 12, if you have two Y tight ends, you’re going to get a base defense. When he’s in the game, you’re going to get nickel. So it’s just a different style player. 6-3, just under 250. He’s a receiver, a different kind of receiver, but we’re not going to be having him block a lot of 6 techs.”

Kincaid will be too big for most slot cornerbacks to defend, and too athletic for linebackers to cover downfield.

“I don’t want to get into the usage part because he’s got to come in and learn the offense, he’ll be a rookie, it’s going to take him time,” Beane added. “That’s going to be determined. He’s just another weapon for Dorsey. Dawson is still going to be very involved. Dawson will play more of that traditional Y, while (Kincaid) will play the F. Dawson is clearly a better in-line blocker and still a receiving threat. Dawson’s not going anywhere.”

Overall, the addition of Dalton Kincaid is an incredible one in theory. He was arguably the best pass-catcher in the 2023 NFL Draft and provides Josh Allen with another weapon that can do work in a variety of ways and help the offense control the middle of the field. a plus athlete that can threaten defenses in a multitude of ways. But whether or not this works will come down to Ken Dorsey and his ability to design an offense that can generate enough looks for a $100 million receiver in Stefon Diggs, a Top-7 paid tight end in Dawson Knox, a top-tier No. 2 receiver in Gabe Davis and now, an offensive weapon in Kincaid. There will undoubtedly be a portion of the fanbase that’s disgruntled with the pick, but it’s hard to deny the fact that Kincaid brings a new, fresh element to the team that was missing.