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2023 Buffalo Bills rookie report: Week 9 at Cincinnati Bengals

Through struggles, Bills have found a franchise tight end

Buffalo Bills v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are beginning to come under heavy fire after another dud performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9 dropped the team to 5-4 and out of the AFC playoff picture for the time being. There’s still plenty of games to play this year, but the broken nature of an offense that seems to sputter at the worst times and an extremely banged up defense that is playing as poor as any in the NFL are reasons for concern.

On Sunday night, the Bills had a host of rookies who continue to contribute. It was a mixed bag in Week 9 from the young crop. Let’s discuss the 2023 NFL Draft class and how they’re performing for a struggling team.

TE Dalton Kincaid

There’s a safety-blanket effect with the Bills’ first-round pick and quarterback Josh Allen. While the big plays are few and far between for Kincaid, good things happen when he gets the ball. Kincaid led the team in targets and receptions on Sunday with 11 and 10 respectively. He’s trusted in the offense and is playing nearly 100% of snaps with Dawson Knox hung up on Injured Reserve (IR).

Kincaid, of course, had a bit of a backbreaking fumble as the Bills were driving early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to one score. Kincaid tried to avoid a tackle and ended up having the ball punched out while fighting for a first down. It’s more of an unlucky break for the young tight end than anything. Funny enough, the player who punches the ball out is who Kincaid beat badly on the original route.

Kincaid is a legitimate star in the making. If quarterback C.J. Stroud wasn’t balling for the Houston Texans right now, Kincaid may have a real shot heading down the stretch of winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. The more the Bills can unleash Kincaid, the greater the success the offense is going to have. It’s no argument that Kincaid is the team’s best pass catcher not named Stefon Diggs.

OG O’Cyrus Torrence

It’s more of the same for Torrence who continues to have some struggles as a pass protector while also proving he can be a road grader in the run game. On Sunday, Torrence was responsible for a sack of quarterback Josh Allen due to a slow process to pass up a T-E stunt. That slow processing led to his body losing positioning, and the defensive end put him on skates right into Josh Allen’s lap.

Torrence appears to have hit a certain level of rookie wall midway through the year, not playing to the high level he was at the first few weeks of the regular season. Of course, as the season wears on, veteran defensive linemen and defensive coordinators are going to be looking to expose Torrence’s weaknesses. We’ll see if Torrence can get his footing back before the team’s bye. There’s a lot of work to do in pass protection for the second-round pick.

LB Dorian Williams

Williams came on in relief for linebacker Terrel Bernard who suffered a concussion against the Bengals. The formerly benched Tulane product came in at Will while Dodson shifted over to Mike linebacker. Williams had a nice tackle in space that stood out in particular, but it was a quiet outing for the third-rounder. Before the injury to Bernard, Williams didn’t play any snaps on defense. It will be worth monitoring Bernard’s status going into a Monday night game, as Williams would very likely start if Bernard is unable to clear concussion protocol.

WR Justin Shorter

The fifth-round pick out of Florida remains on IR with a hamstring injury. It’s possible Shorter is being redshirted with a log jam of depth at the position at this time. there’s been no receiver injuries in 2023, which is likely leading to the long stint on IR.