'A young Superman in training': Rookie Dalton Kincaid gives Bills offense an advantage


Staff member

When Buffalo Bills tight end coach Rob Boras turns on the tape, he knows who he’s guaranteed to see: rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid.

“The thing I love about Dalton is that when you hit pause at the end of the play, he's always in the camera,” Boras said. “So, even if he doesn't have the ball, he's finishing by the ball.”

Take Bills wide receiver Khalil Shakir’s 81-yard touchdown earlier this season – a touchdown that featured some key blocks by Kincaid. The Bills had Kincaid mic’d up for the game, and he explained his play as only he could.

“I ran down, and just DOOT!” Kincaid says.

But what, exactly, does “doot” mean?

“I have no idea,” Kincaid told The Buffalo News. “I don't even remember saying that, to be honest.”

Conscientious of his catchphrases or not, Kincaid is constantly making noise on the field.

“It’s one of his many sound effects,” fullback Reggie Gilliam said. “He just makes random sounds in different moments. And it's like during the snap, so we're in the play and you just hear him making sound effects over there. … I'm just like, ‘Are you like a character? What are you?’ It's like a cartoon character.”

The chattering comes during a specific window.

“He's a quiet guy,” said interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady, “and then you go on field, and it's kinda, he's a different animal.”

“It's game specific,” Gilliam added. “He gets so excited, like he cannot contain it.”

As the Bills gear up for a playoff run with Sunday's AFC wild-card game against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, their rookie tight end will be critical in how far they can advance.

Kincaid is having a strong season by Bills’ historical benchmarks and by leaguewide measures. He finished his regular season with 73 catches for 673 yards and two touchdowns.

Kincaid’s 73 receptions are the most by any Bills rookie or first-year player in a season, passing wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ 65 catches in 2014. The 73 are also the most by any Bills tight end in a season, with Pete Metzelaars' 68 in 1993 the previous high.

And in the league as a whole, he’s made his mark. Only three tight ends in NFL history had more catches in their rookie season than Kincaid: Sam LaPorta (86 in 2023), Keith Jackson (81 in 1988) and Jeremy Shockey (74 in 2002).

Twenty-five tight ends were drafted in the first round from 2000 to 2022; 23 played in at least 10 games as a rookie. And of that group, just six caught 40 or more passes, until the standout seasons this year by LaPorta and Kincaid.

‘Advantage: Buffalo Bills’

When looking to the playoffs, the Bills are expecting the best from Kincaid, but without attaching specific statistical goals to him.

“Like we are with everybody on our team, (the expectation is) just to continue to get better. And what that entails for a tight end can mean a lot of different things,” Boras said. “You can't put a number of catches or touchdowns or anything. It's just, every time we step out there on the field, our job is to be better than we were the week before.”

Still, a good opportunity awaits. The Steelers have allowed an opposing tight end to score in six of their last eight games. Whether Kincaid finds the end zone or not, his presence is a boost to the Bills’ offense.

“A lot of teams can't match up a linebacker or safety with him,” Gilliam said. “So, they have to designate one of their star corners to him, which opens up Stef, Gabe, Khalil whoever else may be. Advantage: Buffalo Bills, there.”

Kincaid’s arrival has changed the fabric of the Bills' offense. They are running more 12 personnel with him and tight end Dawson Knox. Kincaid has earned trust with quarterback Josh Allen from on-the-field reps and from the way he carries himself all week.

“He's in the strength room working on his body and hot tub, cold tub and making sure that he's physically able to go,” Allen said, “because he's taken a few hits this season and, as a rookie, to have this type of season as long as it is, I don't feel like he hit that rookie wall at any point, which is pretty cool to see.”

When Kincaid revels in the fact that Bills veterans believe in him, he teeters on still star-struck.

“It just gives you the confidence, especially those guys believing in you. It's something I would never have ever imagined in my life, but that's the reality right now,” he said Wednesday. “So, super grateful that they do believe in me and have that confidence. And just hoping I can do my part and provide back to them.”

The awe is still there even after having completed his first regular season.

“Just you know, the path coming to where I am today – just still surreal to me,” Kincaid said. “So just kind of living in the moment each and every day.”
But the veteran leaders on the team are quick to toss compliments Kincaid’s way.

“My guy's a pro,” Diggs said. “And as a young player, you kind of see how guys handle adversity and I look him in his eyes, and I can tell he brushes it off like, 'Yeah, I'll get the next one.'

“He kind of has that confidence, that young confidence that you want from players like that. So he has a very bright future in front of him. … He's a young Superman in training.”

The Bills have come up with all types of ways to describe Kincaid.

“We're just both like two golden retrievers,” tight end Quintin Morris said. “We get around each other, and I guess our tails start wagging.”

‘Gonna be special for many years here’

Kincaid’s impressive year began early. On the first play of 11-on-11 in training camp, Allen threw his way. Since then, the Bills’ first-round pick of the 2023 draft has continued to make his mark.

“When you watch him just from a route running standpoint, it's just understanding how the coverage is and how people are defending him and being able to find the soft spots. I mean, that's not easy to do,” Brady said.

“I think we all just assume you draft a guy in the first round that they're just gonna be able to plug and play, and life is gonna be good, but some of the things that he's doing are not something that a rookie should be able to do.”

Gilliam recalls one of Kincaid’s one-handed grabs in training camp. But beyond his playmaking abilities, Kincaid impressed the Bills staff with how quickly he picked up the playbook. That was a main factor in how his season played out, Boras said.

“I think the urgency that he had and his ability to catch up to Josh and the other guys on the offense and try to be able to speak their same language, if you will,” Boras said. “I think that was probably the biggest thing that allowed him to have some success and continued with this growth.”

Brady had the same compliment as Boras: Turn on the tape, and Kincaid is right there.

“When you watch Dalton Kincaid play, he is around the football every single snap, like he plays the way that football's supposed to be played,” Brady said. “He's the first guy picking guys up. He's around the football just in case there's a turnover, he's chasing, he's running.

“He's a special player that is gonna be special for many years here, and just seeing a rookie be able to do what he does is pretty impressive.”