Home » NFL Draft 2023 may have strongest class of tight ends in years. Will Bills take advantage?

NFL Draft 2023 may have strongest class of tight ends in years. Will Bills take advantage?


INDIANAPOLIS – Nothing is going to change at the top of the Buffalo Bills depth chart at tight end any time soon.

Dawson Knox is their No. 1 guy, and the four-year, $52 million contract extension he signed last summer, with $31.2 million guaranteed, made that perfectly clear.

However, unless there’s something that we just haven’t seen yet from Quintin Morris that is going to suddenly emerge in 2023, tight end could be a position general manager Brandon Beane tries to augment somewhere in the middle of the draft.

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If so, this is the right year to do it.

“I think the tight end group is the best I’ve seen in the last ten years. It’s outstanding,” Daniel Jeremiah, the lead draft analyst for NFL Network, said during a conference call with reporters.

Saturday afternoon, the tight ends will be on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium along with the receivers and quarterbacks. It’s always the most interesting day at the NFL Scouting Combine and NFL Network will show the workouts live.

The Bills’ coaching/scouting contingent in Indianapolis will be paying close attention because receiver should be an obvious priority for them at the top of the draft – the first round would be preferable – but tight end could yield a potential addition.

Top tight ends available in NFL Draft 2023

Heading into the Combine, The Draft Network had five tight ends in its top 75 players – Michael Mayer of Notre Dame, Luke Musgrave of Oregon State, Darnell Washington of Georgia, Dalton Kincaid of Utah, and Sam LaPorta of Iowa.

On his top 100 big board, Dane Brugler of The Athletic had Mayer, Musgrave, Washington and Kincaid within his top 30 with Tucker Kraft of South Dakota State at No. 49, LaPorta at No. 61 and Luke Schoonmaker at No. 100.

In the 2022 draft, four tight ends were taken inside the first three rounds, and five went in both 2021 and 2020, but this year Jeremiah thinks it could be much more.

“I have 11 tight ends that I have top three round grades on, which is a ridiculous number. It is just a really, really good group,” said Jeremiah, who has Kincaid, Washington, Mayer, Musgrave, LaPorta and Davis Allen of Clemson in his top 50.

What will the Buffalo Bills look for in a tight end?

If the Bills are going to add a tight end, the decision on who it would be will hinge on what traits they’re looking for. Do they want someone who can run routes and make plays in the passing game similar to Knox, or do they want someone who can serve as a sixth offensive lineman in the run game?

Last year, Josh Allen targeted tight ends Knox, Morris and Tommy Sweeney just 76 combined times and Knox received 65 of those. That’s because the Bills’ receiving corps dominated playing time as offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey used three wides on 70% of his calls while two tight ends were on the field just 4% of the time.

The 250-pound Morris played 282 offensive snaps, but while he showed occasional flashes, he was targeted only nine times and caught eight for 84 yards and a TD, while as a blocker he was graded poorly by Pro Football Focus.

Morris’ deficient blocking is why the Bills employed backup offensive lineman Bobby Hart as a quasi second tight end, but while being an eligible receiver, he did not threaten the defense and his usage actually alerted the defense that the Bills were likely running the ball. Hart was on the field for 129 plays in that role and the Bills threw the ball just 27 times.

That’s a situation that has to be rectified, meaning the Bills need more from the tight end position beyond what Knox can bring.

Kincaid is Jeremiah’s favorite and he made quite a comparison for the 6-foot-4, 242-pounder who caught 70 passes for 890 yards and eight TDs including an unbelievable performance against USC when he caught 16 for 234 yards and a TD.

“I don’t like when you compare guys to all-time great players … he kind of looks like (Travis) Kelce just the way he moves in and out of breaks,” Jeremiah said. “He is a really, really good player. I really liked Zach Ertz the year he was coming out. I think (Kincaid) is a better version of Zach Ertz.”

OK, so Kincaid will probably be long gone by the time the Bills might start thinking about taking a tight end, perhaps in the third round.

Georgia’s Darnell Washington may be a good for for Buffalo Bills

That’s why a player like the 6-foot-7 Washington could be a fit at No. 91 overall for Buffalo. Last year he caught 28 passes for 454 yards and two TDs for national champion Georgia, but where he really made his mark was as a blocker.

“Carrying the leanest 280 pounds (he’s actually been measured closer to 265 pounds) you will see on a football field, Darnell Washington is a weapon as a blocker and offers untapped potential as a pass catcher,” Brugler said. “He is still maturing in several areas, but he gives his quarterback a massive target and will show his value as a run blocker immediately.”

Beane knows the offense was very good statistically in 2022, but he also knows he has to keep adding weapons for Josh Allen in order to keep things moving forward in an ever-evolving league.


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“We’re always looking for playmakers and whether that’s a receiver, a running back, a tight end,” Beane said. “You’re always looking for guys that are weapons with the ball, mismatches that you can get defenses into different … say you took a tight end, a guy that makes the defense come out of nickel and play you base.

“So we’ll look at various ways to add playmakers. I’m not going to say we have to have a receiver or we have to have a tight end but we surely are always looking to add guys that Josh can get the ball to and they can make plays with it in their hands.”

Sal Maiorana can be reached at maiorana@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal’s newsletter, Bills Blast, which will come out every Friday during the offseason, please follow this link: https://profile.democratandchronicle.com/newsletters/bills-blast