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2023 Buffalo Bills rookie report: Divisional round vs. Kansas City Chiefs

The rookie class concludes the season with hope for the future

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills’ season has come to an end after a home AFC Divisional Round classic. Once again, the Bills were handed a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

The Bills’ defense was carved up throughout the entirety of the game, giving up 7.7 yards per play. A couple of timely stops on defense and a fumble that resulted in a touchback that allowed the Bills to take over kept the score more friendly than it really should have been. To no surprise, injuries played a large part in the ineffectiveness of the defense.

In unison with the defensive injuries, the offensive game plan was to take the air out of the football, knowing that the Bills could move the ball efficiently on the ground with designed runs and the assistance of Josh Allen’s legs as a scrambler. The plan nearly worked itself to a win, but the offense sputtered at times with downfield drops on shot plays and an inability to generate big plays.

With the loss, the rookie seasons for several Bills are now in the books. Let’s discuss how each of Buffalo’s most recent draft selections performed in the final game of their inaugural season as members of the Buffalo Bills.

TE Dalton Kincaid

Once again, it was the rookie first-round tight end leading the team in receiving — something he did in each of the Bills’ postseason showings this year. Kincaid looked like Buffalo’s best yards-after-catch threat in Sunday’s game against the Chiefs and also like one of the most reliable. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of him throughout this postseason because it truly felt like he was blossoming as the year came to a close.

There’s so much to be excited about for year two Dalton Kincaid and the trust in him to run an expanded route tree. Kincaid having a large portion of plays designed for his role in the passing game is something that should only continue into his sophomore campaign.

All that we loved about Kincaid showed itself in big moments down the stretch — route running, hands, and the ability to win at the catch point.

OG O’Cyrus Torrence

There’s no doubting that second-round selection and yearlong starter at right guard O’Cyrus Torrence made a big-time difference in the Bills’ run game in 2023. That continued against the Chiefs on Sunday when the team ran for 182 yards on the evening. The pass-rush reps were nice from Torrence, who’s had his fair share of headaches in that department in 2023 against some of the league’s best interior rushers.

Still, the big-time losses showed up one or two times a game in ways that resulted in negative plays — either by way of sacks or blown up designed runs. Torrence had a difficult time climbing off his combo block on the move Sunday, which allowed a triggering Chiefs linebacker to stick running back James Cook for a loss.

The lack of athleticism shows up enough to question what Torrence’s NFL ceiling may be, but if he can clean up some of the clear losses there’s a floor to work with due to the natural strength and ability to work angles in the run game. Torrence will be penned in as the starter at right guard in 2024 after playing every single snap on offense in 2023.

LB Dorian Williams

When star linebacker Matt Milano went down early in the season, Williams was given first crack at replacing him as a third-round rookie. Immediately, it was easy to see trends coming into play with him — an inconsistent process and flashes of high-level athleticism others in the room (aside from starters Bernard and Milano) cannot boast.

It was clear that head coach Sean McDermott didn’t trust Williams to play high-volume reps on the defense, which was shown as recently as Sunday’s matchup against the Chiefs. Williams received all of six defensive snaps despite a decimated linebacker unit missing Matt Milano, Terrel Bernard, and Baylon Spector.

There is a very obvious success story to point to despite a very limited amount of rookie-year snaps at linebacker. That’s none other than current starter Terrel Bernard who has been a revelation in his second year moving into a full-time role. Like Williams, Bernard was a third-round draft pick who had limited opportunity as a rookie — even less than Williams.

The flashes exist for the Tulane product, which is a presentation of hope for the future as an explosive sideline-to-sideline presence. With Bernard and Milano slated to be back in 2024, the plan has to be for Williams to step in to be the primary reserve at the position. The Bills could have one of the best linebacker units in the league next year.

WR Justin Shorter

It was an uneventful rookie year for Justin Shorter who spent the entirety of his rookie campaign on Injured Reserve. A bit of a redshirt year for the fifth-round pick out of Florida makes some sense. We’ll see how his development formulates in year two as a potential special teams ace of the future.

It’s hard to believe that Shorter will ever play a significant role as a natural receiver in the NFL due to a level of hip tightness to run a full route tree, but he has the frame and requisite athleticism to be a successful third-phase player at the NFL level.