Bills TE Dalton Kincaid needs an efficiency boost

The Buffalo Bills vacated 56% of their receiving first downs from 2023, and they need Dalton Kincaid to help fill that void.
Buffalo Bills' tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) had 29 first downs in the 2023 regular season.
Buffalo Bills' tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) had 29 first downs in the 2023 regular season. / Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and

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Buffalo Bills’ rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid had an exceptional first season in the NFL, and the team will need him to be even better in 2024.

In many ways, Kincaid is already a top-10 tight end in the league, and many jaded fans will have a “ho-hum” response to that since they had unrealistic expectations for the first-round pick or are comparing him to the incredible season constructed by fellow rookie TE Sam LaPorta of the Detroit Lions. However, we should not fall into the trap of already taking Kincaid for granted. Here’s a quick look at some of the statistics detailing how impressive Kincaid was in his rookie season (stats from PFF):

  • 73 receptions was tied for seventh in the NFL among tight ends
  • His 90 targets ranked eighth
  • At 3.9%, his Drop Rate was 18th among TEs with 20% of targets, and no one with a better percentage had as many targets as he did (FYI, LaPorta’s Drop Rate was 7.5%)
  • Kincaid’s 312 Yards After the Catch ranked 11th, and the ten players ahead of him averaged 15 more targets for the season
  • His Yards Per Route Run against zone coverage, the predominant form of pass defense in the NFL, ranked seventh at 1.88

Related: NFL analyst says this Bills WR 'gives off Cooper Kupp vibes'

There are numerous signs in Kincaid’s statistics and play on film that point to his capacity to handle a heavier workload, and that’s good news (for a review of Kincaid’s game tape, check out these episodes from Cover 1 Film Room and Locked On Bills). When the Bills let Gabriel Davis and other receivers walk in free agency before trading Stefon Diggs to the Houston Texans, the Bills let 86% of their targets to WRs leave the building. The total percentage of targets gone from all Bills’ pass catchers amounts to 55.5%. Adding players like Curtis Samuel and drafting Keon Coleman will help fill the target void, as well as the expected rise from Khalil Shakir. Still, many analysts anticipate Kincaid to join the ranks of the top five TEs in terms of targets and catches. This author is one of them.

As high as Kincaid’s ceiling is, there are some areas where the Bills and fans will want to see improvement. Not only did the Bills say adios to 55.5% of their collective targets, but 56.3% of their passing first downs went with them. To a degree, NFL defenses have recovered from the onslaught of explosive offenses led by quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. Especially for the Bills, explosive plays were down in 2023. The Bills remain a top offense as long as Allen is behind center, but the form of that offense appears to be changing toward increased efficiency, which means the Bills will need more from Kincaid in moving the chains.

Compared to his top ten TE peers, Kincaid’s 2023 showed room for growth in first down efficiency. Some of the meat left on the bone was due to offensive coordinator issues and changes (it never appeared that Ken Dorsey knew how to activate Kincaid’s full skill set), the challenges of being an NFL rookie, and playing with established stars. The chart below shows the top eleven TEs in terms of first downs along with their targets and first downs per target.

Data from PFF

Related: Bills' Allen, Chiefs' Mahomes Only Two QBs in Elite Analytics Classification

Of the teams above, San Francisco, Dallas, Detroit, Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Atlanta were in the top 13 teams in Dropback Success Rate. The Bills ranked second in Dropback Success Rate in 2023, but - maybe you've heard this - the vast majority of those offensive skills players are no longer employed in Orchard Park. Success Rate is an indicator of offensive efficiency and consistency. It essentially answers the question, "How good are you at moving toward first downs?" If Kincaid is going to be the focal point of the Bills' revamped offense, he will need to be a highly efficient scalpel to carve out the Bills' voided first downs.

We can see that Kincaid’s 29 first downs were quite good, ranking 13th overall. Still, if the Bills are going to count on him as a number-one pass catcher in an offense relying on increased efficiency, then the young star needs to be schemed into better opportunities and execute on those chances at a high rate. Kincaid has the athletic skills, field awareness, and football IQ to do so and more, and the Bills will need everything he has to offer.

Chris Seth