Amid a journey that’s seen him go from obscurity at the University of San Diego to national prominence at the University of Utah, play-making tight end Dalton Kincaid is now a first-round NFL draft pick. 

Buffalo is the next place where Kincaid will be catching passes.

In a last-minute deal with Jacksonville late in the first round Thursday night, the Bills traded up two spots to move ahead of the Dallas Cowboys — who were also looking for a dynamic tight end — and grabbed Kincaid at No. 25 overall. He was the first tight end off the board in the 2023 draft. 

Kincaid, a native of Las Vegas, will join a Buffalo team led by two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills posted a 13-3 record last season and finished with a loss to Cincinnati in the divisional round. 

The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Kincaid has a reputation for smooth route running, sure hands, an impressive catch radius, an ability to beat man coverage and the flexibility to line up all over the field. He’ll enhance the Bills’ tight ends room, which also features Dawson Knox. Kincaid is expected to make an immediate impact in Buffalo.

USA Today’s Doug Farrar gave the Bills an A+ draft grade for picking Kincaid, with this analysis: “The Bills are in need of an offense that doesn’t force Josh Allen to do everything, and the addition of Dalton Kincaid is certainly a step in the right direction. There is no other tight end in this class — and few receivers overall — with Kincaid’s ability to win contested catches, beat both man and zone coverage with timing and spacing, and use pure speed to get things done. The Bills have had all kinds of issues getting past the Chiefs in recent years, and Kincaid reminds me of Travis Kelce, so that’s a positive step.”

Some draft experts have compared Kincaid to Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz. The Bills need help with their the red-zone offense and Kincaid could be a key addition in that area. 

“He is the best pass-catching tight end in this draft, a true seam stretcher with soft hands,” ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. wrote prior to the draft. 

2023 NFL draft: Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid selected by Buffalo Bills
Dalton Kincaid’s journey from FCS tight end, to Utah star, to potential first-round NFL draft pick

Kincaid became Utah’s 10th all-time first-round pick. And it marks the first time in program history that the Utes have had back-to-back years with first-round picks. 

Last year, linebacker Devin Lloyd was taken at No. 27 overall by Jacksonville.

Tweeted Utah coach Kyle Whittingham Thursday night: “The epitome of a steal in the draft. A beast on the field, and a leader, great teammate and an all-around exceptional person off of it. Dalton, the minute you got to Utah we knew you’d be something special. Now, here you are, a first-round pick. Congratulations!!”

Kincaid is Utah’s highest draft pick since 2017, when offensive lineman Garett Bolles was chosen by Denver at No. 20. He’s the first Ute tight end to be drafted since 1996 and the highest selected tight end in program history. 

In his last two seasons at Utah, Kincaid caught 107 passes for 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns. 

Kincaid’s most memorable performance came last October against No. 7 USC. That night, he caught 16 passes for a career-high 234 yards and a touchdown in a 43-42 victory over the Trojans. Kincaid was targeted 16 times and caught every ball thrown his way.

ESPN’s Robert Griffin III tweeted Thursday night: “Dalton Kincaid is a FOOTBALL CATCHING CONNOISSEUR. This All American TE caught 16 passes for 234 yards and a TD against USC this past season. He is a willing blocker but is one of the best pass catchers in the entire draft who laughs in the face of contact. Bills Mafia kinda guy.”

By season’s end, Kincaid was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and he was named a third-team All-American. 

Prior to the draft, Kincaid reflected on his meteoric rise from unknown prospect that only played one year of high school football at Faith Lutheran High to a potential first-round pick. 

“It’s definitely something that’s crazy. It’s a dream come true for me,” he said. “A lot of people have gotten me here and sacrificed a lot so I’m very grateful for all those people to put me in a good position to succeed.”

Utah tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham, who recruited Kincaid out of the University of San Diego, has little doubt about what Kincaid’s NFL future holds. 

“Nobody brings the blend of speed, route running and the ability to get open and make contested catches,” he said. “I think that whoever drafts him is going to look really, really smart eventually and they’ll have an All-Pro guy on their hands.”