We all saw that coming.
We all definitely had Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid atop our list of potential targets for the Buffalo Bills in the 2023 NFL Draft and expected the team to trade up to get him. We all certainly thought that tight end was a pressing need on a roster that targeted tight ends with near league-low frequency last season and is about to have the money on its starting tight end’s four-year, $53.6 million extension kick in. Kincaid himself thought that this was a sure bet, as well, and he certainly did not have to scramble to find a Buffalo hat after receiving a call from a 716-area code.
And that’s the beauty of the NFL Draft: it’s predictable. We all expected Kincaid to be a primary target for the Bills, and he’s now in a perfect situation to step in and be an impactful player for an offense in desperate need of his skill set.
No, I was actually being serious with that last part.
Hyperbole in the lede aside, Buffalo’s selection of Kincaid, though initially shocking, was actually shrewd, especially within the context of the draft itself. When one starts to move past the restrictive ‘tight end’ label that’s been tacked to Kincaid and instead evaluates him as the dynamic pass-catcher that he is, it becomes clear that the former Ute will not only have no difficulty finding snaps in Orchard Park – it may be difficult to keep him off the field.
Kincaid’s instincts and natural feel as a receiver stick out as unique. He moves with a fluidity and grace uncommon from tight ends, with general manager Brandon Beane noting the prospect’s prowess as a route-runner and ability to set up defenders in his post-draft press conference. Combine his organic feel and refined technique with his 10.25-inch hands, and you have the foundation of an intriguing offensive weapon.
His hands, now the largest amongst all Buffalo pass catchers (tied with Dezmon Patmon), are as strong as they are reliable. He dropped only two passes throughout his two seasons at Utah, per PFF, good for a career drop percentage of just 1.9%. Both of these drops came in the 2022 season, a year in which his target share more than doubled (45 targets to 93). Though a marginal increase in drops is not ideal, it’s far from indicative of an issue.
Kincaid’s hands, the third largest amongst tight ends in this year’s draft, are 81st percentile amongst all tight ends, per Mockdraftable. This isn’t necessarily earth-shattering, with his 40th percentile wingspan (78.38 inches) and 25th percentile height (6-foot-4) also being a bit unremarkable. When one expands the dataset to all skill position players, a perhaps more apt grouping considering Kincaid’s assumptive role, his athletic profile becomes far more notable, entering the 92nd percentile in hand size, 74th percentile in wingspan, and 77th percentile in height.
And this is how fans should evaluate Kincaid moving forward in order to get a fair assessment. Don’t view him as a tight end and compare him to other players at the position. Don’t view him as competition for Dawson Knox.
Look at him as a long overdue Cole Beasley successor.
Kincaid’s ability to set up defenders, get open underneath, and find soft spots in the defense is akin to what a healthy Beasley once brought to Buffalo’s offenses (akin is the important word there, as few slot receivers in NFL history were as productive as a healthy Beasley). It became a common comparison on Twitter after the 23-year-old’s selection, and for good reason. Beane even compared the two players in his presser, referring to Kincaid as Beasley-esque with a ‘different body.‘
You really do have to throw the ‘tight end’ label out of the window when evaluating Kincaid, as though he was listed at the position on Utah’s depth chart, he essentially played as a slot receiver in Salt Lake City. Though the majority of his snaps last season came as an in-line tight end (375 compared to 257 in the slot at 49 on the boundary. per PFF), he was lined up in the slot for 55.1% of the team’s passing plays. When Utah was passing the ball, Kincaid, more often than not, was its slot receiver.
And he was incredibly productive in this role, especially in the short game. Of his 93 targets, 62% of them (58) came within zero-to-nine yards of the line of scrimmage, according to PFF. This sweet spot in which he used his instincts and frame to dominate defenders is where the majority of his production occurred, with 509 of his 890 receiving yards and four of his eight touchdowns coming within nine yards of the line.
Perhaps more compelling for Buffalo is the specific area in which Kincaid’s production took place, as of his 58 receptions in the short game, 38 of them came over the middle of the field. He picked up 214 yards after the catch in this area, accounting for over half of his YAC on the season (54% of his 397 yards after the catch). Nearly 45% of his total production (385 of his 890 receiving yards) came in this specific area of the field, an area in which the Bills struggled to consistently find production last season.
Though Allen, statistically, was not bad in this area in the field last season, completing 108 passes for 976 yards, three scores, and two picks (PFF), there was a Beasley-sized hole in the region. The slot receiver, in his prime, served as Allen’s safety valve, with his consistent ability to identify an opening, get to it, and make himself available being something that Allen came to greatly rely upon through Beasley’s tenure in Buffalo. The Bills failed in securing a similar type of player after Beasley’s departure in the 2022 offseason, with his absence leaving Buffalo’s still statistically-strong offense rudderless, at times, throughout the 2022 campaign, to the point that it brought a battered Beasley back at the end of the season.
Allen, throughout much of the year, lacked a reliable target over the middle of the field, a fluid route runner with natural instincts and strong hands. With the selection of Kincaid, the Bills have, theoretically, filled this hole, the tight end label be damned.
And even if Buffalo does shock us all and chooses to develop Kincaid along as a traditional tight end, I’m sure he’ll develop into an incredibly impactful player at the position. The receiving ability is already there, and though he leaves much to be desired as a blocker, that area of his game can be refined with tutelage from tight ends coach Rob Boras (for evidence of this, just look at Dawson Knox’s trajectory as a blocker).
The selection of Kincaid, though initially confusing, was perhaps as rational of a decision that Beane could have made in the wee hours of Thursday night. Given the smoke entering draft day and his ultimate selection, it was clear that Beane wanted to secure a dynamic slot option early in the draft, and given how the board fell, Kincaid was perhaps the most sure-fire possibility available. Parting ways with the 130th overall pick in the draft in order to move up two spots is not ideal, especially in a draft in which Buffalo only had six selections, but it’s not distressing, especially when one considers that Beane was confident that Kincaid would not have been available at his original pick. If draft pick value charts are your thing, most of them suggest that Buffalo won the trade, anyway.
I completely understand if you woke up in a haze on Friday morning, your brain still puzzled by the fact that Roger Goodell announced a tight end when he took the stage with the Bills’ draft card, but don’t let the label fool you. Kincaid may be just what the doctor ordered for Buffalo, bringing a familiar skill set back to an offense in dire need of reliability over the middle of the field. It’s okay to be scratching your head now, but I don’t think you will be at this time next year.