When watching tight end Dalton Kincaid at work, the words of his former teammate, Christian Brown, ring true.
"He is a smooth operator," Brown observed.
The Bills' first round pick excelled in his time at both the University of San Diego and the University of Utah. Looking into Kincaid's journey to the NFL, it's no surprise the Bills traded up to get him with the 25th overall pick.
"He's such an incredible natural athlete," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's just so smooth and effortless. He just has a natural feel and knack for maneuvering and getting over. He's a lot like Travis Kelce in that regard. He's got those same characteristics where he just has a feel for getting in the open spaces and maneuvering on his routes and has a knack for getting open."
On the practice field, Kincaid stands out for his ability to seemingly catch anything thrown his way. His speed and quick feet make him a matchup nightmare for not only linebackers but even speedy defensive backs. Though just a rookie, Kincaid could make an instant impact on the Bills' offense.
"The kid is very smart," said quarterback Josh Allen. "He doesn't play like a rookie. He's instinctive, he understands our offense very well. His body control is fantastic. … We're not gonna be afraid to play him right away."
Scroll to see photos as Buffalo Bills 2023 first-round pick Dalton Kincaid arrives at One Bills Drive.
As a first-round draft pick brought in to boost a playoff-contending team, one might assume that Kincaid grew up playing football. Instead, it wasn't until his senior year of high school that he decided to give football a shot. Primarily a basketball player, Kincaid had to be convinced by his teammates to try out for the football team.
But after graduating from Faith Lutheran High School, the no-star recruit quickly turned heads at the University of San Diego in 2018 because of his instinctive feel for football.
"It was the craziest thing meeting him and hearing that he had only played one year of high school football because you just watched him run around on a football field and run routes and it was just all super natural to him," said Brown, who played with Kincaid during both of his seasons at USD. "I was like there is no way this kid has only played one year in high school."
Kincaid credits his versatile skillset to his experience playing multiple sports, using the imagery of grabbing a rebound to
"You kind of pick up these little bits and pieces and skills and attributes that will translate to another sport," Kincaid said. "For instance, basketball, you get good feet, you go rebound the ball a lot and that can translate over to football. I mean route running and going up and catching the football especially a contested catch. When you have five, six guys in the paint going up for a rebound and then it's just two guys going up for a football, so it's a little different but it all translates."
Kincaid's wide range of skills will give the Bills' offense a great deal of flexibility with how they run their offense. The challenge multi-tight end sets create for defenses to predict offensive plays could lead to busted coverage or an inability to contain the run game.
"I think him and Dawson on the field together is gonna cause some headaches for defensive coordinators just because they both can run block good enough," Allen said during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show. "If you put sub on the field and if you go base, our pass game is going to have some good opportunities too."
"Just getting those guys matched up with some linebackers and safeties, it's going to be fun to see how we utilize both of our guys."
At Utah, Kyle Whittingham often runs 12 or 13 personnel, meaning two or even three tight ends on the field at the same time. Kincaid was a clear example of how effective the scheme can be, with 890 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his final season.
"We think it gives you the best of all worlds," Whittingham said. "You create mismatches in both the run game and the pass game, particularly if you got a tight end or two that are extremely effective as receivers. … It presents matchup problems and gives you a lot of options as an offensive coordinator."
The Bills ran multi-tight end sets on first down at the second-lowest rate in the NFL last season, but with Kincaid on the field, that is likely to change in 2023. With both Kincaid and Knox having the ability to block in the run game, defenses will have trouble guessing what the Bills might call.
But there should be no doubt that Kincaid will also be a key part of the passing game this season and later on in his career. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Kincaid is a lethal threat in the slot and is a continuation of the ever-evolving tight end position.
Just look at the numbers: In 2000, the 11 tight ends with the most receptions averaged 59.45 catches. 10 years later, the average jumped up to 67.45. Last season, it increased to 69.82 catches as tight ends steadily become more integral to a team's passing game.
"In the past there was your blocking tight ends and then you had the complementary kind of receiving tight end," said offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who played alongside four-time Pro Bowler Jeremey Shockey while at the University of Miami. "And more and more, it's becoming a hybrid position where the best guys can do a little bit of everything. … Even guys who are considered more pass-catching type guys, offenses still use them as blockers."
While blocking in the NFL will be an adjustment for Kincaid, as it is for any rookie, the talented receiver has experience putting his head down and doing a bit of dirty work. In his senior season of high school basketball, Kincaid led the state of Nevada in charges per game.
"I think I averaged like three or four a game," Kincaid said. "It's just like the swing it creates in a basketball game. I mean, that person gets a foul, your team gets the ball, you could potentially be shooting free throws if they're in the bonus."
And if the Bills are looking for someone to buy in to their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl, they have Coach Whittingham's complete endorsement.
"[Kincaid is] completely unselfish, completely all-in about the team," Whittingham said. "It's not about him. All he did in his entire time here was work hard."
The hard work continues for the Bills, as their Sept. 11 season opening matchup against the New York Jets creeps ever closer.
Scroll to see photo as ADPRO Sports assembles Dalton Kincaid's new Buffalo Bills Jersey after being drafted 25th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.