The Scheme Fits: Why Dalton Kincaid could be the Buffalo Bills’ new alpha receiver

In this series, Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar goes through some of the most interesting player and team fits among prospects from the 2023 NFL draft. We’ll start with Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid, who could become Josh Allen’s new best friend in the Buffalo Bills’ passing game.

Last season, per Sports Info Solutions, the Buffalo Bills lined up with two tight ends on the field for 41 of Josh Allen’s dropbacks. Only the Los Angeles Rams (22) and the Cincinnati Bengals (35) had fewer overall dropbacks with two tight ends, so when you look at what Bills general manager Brandon Beane has done over the last several months at that position, it’s clear that changes are coming.

Last September, the Bills gave tight end Dawson Knox a four-year, $52 million contract extension with $31.2 million guaranteed that makes him one of the highest-paid players at his position. And then, in the first round of the 2023 draft, Beane traded up to the 25th overall pick to select Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid. Last season for the Utes, Kincaid caught 70 passes on 93 targets for 890 yards and eight touchdowns. Just six of those catches came on passes of 20 or more air yards, but when you watch Kincaid’s tape, it’s clear that he can do more as an intermediate and deep receiver — certainly with Josh Allen as his quarterback. Kincaid led al FBS tight ends in catches and yards per game despite a back injury that cut his season short.

Once the New York Giants took Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks with the 24th overall pick. Beane got on the phone with the Jacksonville Jaguars and popped his team up from the 27th pick, because Kincaid was the guy he had in mind all along.

“Elite hands,” said Beane, when asked what stood out most about Kincaid. “Really good route runner, good feel setting up guys inside. There’s always the card telling you as a player what to do, eight yards here or there, but sometimes the defense changes. This guy has got a great feel, great instinct. You guys saw it from a different position, Cole Beasley, great feel. This guy with a different body type does that. But I would say the number one thing about him, elite hands, good route runner, separation ability at the top of the route.”

Those attributes showed up over and over again when watching Kincaid. He was especially adept in foiling zone coverage — his 45 receptions against zone last season ranked first among all tight ends not only in this class, but in the FBS. Kincaid gained 626 yards on those catches, also tops in the nation, and only Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer had more touchdown with four than Kincaid’s three.

Kincaid is just creeping death to basic zone coverage for a few reasons: He has the speed to get through the first gates, he’s on point when it’s time to stop and catch, and he’s just a bully after the catch. You need to have a better plan for this guy once he gets going than Colorado’s defense did here.

And though his athleticism is a primary attribute, Kincaid can also be a real problem for defenses with contested catches. Even with defenders all over him, the ball is more his than it is theirs.

In those aforementioned 3×1 sets, the “Y-iso” — the tight end who can align alone to one side of the field and make big plays — is of primary importance if your tight end has the skills to get that done. Kincaid’s athletic attributes and ball-tracking ability project him quite well into that particular scenario.

Beane brought up Kincaid’s ability to win as a Y-iso guy right after the pick was made.

“Generally when you’re in 12 [personnel, with one running back and two tight ends], if you’ve got two ‘Y’ [in-line] tight ends, you’re going to get base defense,” Beane said. “When he’s in the game, we’re going to get nickel as if we’re in 11 [personnel, with one back, one tight ends, and three receivers]. So it’s just a different style player. He’s 6-3, just under 250. He’s not a receiver, but he’s more of a receiver. We’re not going to be having him block a lot of six-techs [defensive ends].”

Detaching Kincaid from the formation could and should set up some of the same kinds of mismatches presented over the years by Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who was my NFL comparison for Kincaid. The Bills are working overtime to change their offense into something that doesn’t require Josh Allen to be Superman on every play, and the addition of Kincaid is a major step forward in that positive direction.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire