PITTSFORD, N.Y. — During an early training camp practice, when players rotating on and off the field is key for widespread team evaluation, fairness in positional battles and hydration purposes under the sweltering sun, Bills first-round tight end Dalton Kincaid is the exception.
OK, so he did take an occasional breather and got a few water-bottle sips, those instances were few and far between. If you weren’t closely paying attention, it would’ve been easy to leave Buffalo’s third camp practice thinking Kincaid played every first-team snap.
And that’s been the theme of the Bills’ first week of 2023 training camp — Kincaid being fast-tracked into what unequivocally feels like will be a prominent, instant-impact role for a rookie within Buffalo’s dynamic offense.
At first glance, Kincaid simply moves different than any other tight end on the roster. He exudes fluidity off the snap, when running his routes and after the catch. That forward “lean” description typically reserved for speedy receivers and backs emanates from each stride Kincaid makes on the field.
In team drills against the first-team defense, Kincaid shook second-year linebacker Baylon Spector with a slot wideout-esque whip route that opened a massive throwing window over the middle for Josh Allen and, vitally, created a valley of space to run after the catch.
Later, Spector tipped a seam throw from Allen that probably would’ve resulted in a touchdown down the seam. And it came on a play in which veteran tight end Dawson Knox went in motion to run a wheel route down the sideline. Yep, Knox running a clearing route, essentially decoying for the youngster.
In actuality, though, Kincaid isn’t that young, particularly for a first-year pro. And while that fact normally comes with a negative connotation, it does lend credence to the idea that said player can handle a fully-loaded plate as a rookie.
Across five collegiate seasons, the soon-to-be 24-year-old Kincaid played over 1,600 snaps — compared to just over 1,000 for Knox at Ole Miss, by the way — and caught 126 passes, including 106 in his final two years at Utah. Kincaid is ready to produce. Now.
The Bills understood that when they traded up to make him the first tight end off the board in April, and they’re moving forward with a very heavy workload for Kincaid at the outset of camp. Given the shortened length of training camps in today’s NFL, Buffalo has to do that if the plan is indeed for him to have a relatively active role in the offense starting in Week 1.
Because of Kincaid’s presence, there’s been much buzz about Buffalo incorporating significantly more “12” personnel — one running back, two tight ends — in 2023 after utilizing that versatile formation just under 4% of the offensive snaps last season, the lowest rate in the league. Buffalo’s first unit used that personnel package often on Friday morning.
A season ago, it felt like new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey worked diligently to maintain most of the core pass-game philosophies set forth by Brian Daboll during Allen’s eruption from 2019 to 2021. An abundance of three-receiver, one-tight end looks and a high-volume role for the ultra-reliable, chain-moving slot wideout Cole Beasley beyond plenty of looks for clear cheat code Stefon Diggs.
The only problem was, until way late in the year, Beasley wasn’t on the team anymore, and those Buffalo hoped could adequately replace Beasley in the aggregate, could not. Therefore, Dorsey and Allen were forced to improvise on the fly and the long ball became the offensive identity. Allen led full-time starters in average depth of target (10.2 yards) and Big-Time Throw Rate (7.6%). Altogether though, Buffalo’s offense wasn’t as efficient, especially when it mattered most.
Now with Kincaid, it appears the Bills, knowing full well what Allen is capable of when vertical openings present themselves, want to return to more of the ball-control ways at the foundation of Allen’s emergence but do it from a different personnel package.
In theory, Kincaid’s experience, unreal smoothness and huge, strong hands — he dropped two passes in his entire collegiate career — make him a prime candidate to be the low-key focal point for that Bills offensive recalibration.
Two years ago, tight ends Kyle Pitts and Pat Freiermuth eclipsed 60 receptions as rookies. The first three steamy training camp practices at St. John Fisher University signify that benchmark may very well be in reach for Kincaid in 2023.