The following article is based on the opinions of external draft analysts.
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We're heading into the fourth season of the Ron Rivera era, and the Washington Commanders have a pristine opportunity to strengthen their roster.
In his first season as Washington's head coach, Rivera took Chase Young, who became the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year, with the No. 2 overall pick. The next season, he drafted Jamin Davis with the No. 19 overall pick, and the former Kentucky Wildcat showed promise in his first season. And last year, the Commanders took Jahan Dotson, who wasted no time in becoming a valuable member of the Commanders' receiving corps.
Now, the Commanders have the No. 16 overall pick, and analysts are predicting them to go with a plethora of positions, from offensive line to cornerback and linebacker, at that spot.
In anticipation for that selection, Commanders.com will highlight one mock draft from a draft expert each week and delve into how that player would fit with Washington. Here are the players we have covered so far:
This week, we're moving in a different direction with the Commanders possibly dipping into one of the most talented pools of this year's class.
Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Let's get this statement out of the way: tight end is not a draft need in the same way that cornerback or offensive line is for the Commanders.
Here's a rundown of who Washington has at the position: Logan Thomas, who has dealt with injuries in the last two seasons but can be an impactful player when healthy; John Bates, who is one of the league's better blockers at the position with good hands; Armani Rogers, the converted quarterback who has a wealth of athleticism; Cole Turner, a 2022 fifth-round pick who has the tools to be a potent red zone threat; and Curtis Hodges, who did not play last year but has potential with some development.
That amounts to five tight ends, four of whom are 25 or younger, that the Commanders are confident in. But if they are serious about taking the best player available at No. 16 overall -- that is how coach Ron Rivera sees the team's position -- then that may involve adding another tight end, a position that is hailed as one of the best in the draft.
That's the direction ESPN's Mike Tannenbaum has the Commanders going in his latest mock draft.
"Kincaid has yet to work out for teams but proved incredibly productive last season, catching 70 passes for 890 yards and eight touchdowns," Tannenbaum wrote. "Look no further than his 16 receptions for 234 yards and a touchdown against USC to see how effective he can be as a receiver."
In a tight end class that is believed to have impact players as deep into the draft as the third round, there is little disagreement that Kincaid is one of the best the position has to offer. A former high school basketball star, Kincaid was an All-Pac-12 selection in 2022 for catching 70 passes for 890 yards and eight touchdowns.
It does not take long to see that Kincaid's strength is as a pass-catcher, rather than blocking. He has the talent to beat cornerbacks on the outside and win one-on-one matchups, but he also possesses the elusiveness to evade defenders in open space on his way to the end zone.
Kincaid might have some of the most reliable hands in the draft, regardless of position. Per PFF's Mike Renner, Kincaid only had two drops on 108 catchable passes.
"Kincaid is a fluid route runner with the athleticism and play speed to create mismatches against lesser coverage," NFL.com Lance Zierlein wrote in his evaluation of Kincaid. "Impeccable ball skills and sticky hands allow him to tilt 50/50 contested throws in his favor."
PFF backs up the talent that Kincaid has at his disposal, as he had the highest receiving grade among all college tight ends last season (92.3). Utah also made good use of his talents; he was on the field for 366 pass plays in 2022, and he ran a route on 91% of those snaps.
Over the last two seasons, Kincaid has had a contested catch rate of 65.4%, and he knows how to make plays once he has the ball in his hands, as 35% of his yardage during that span of time has come after the catch.
A transfer from San Diego, where he had 20 touchdown catches in 2018 and '19 combined, Kincaid had 16 scores for the Utes over the past two seasons," ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. wrote of Kincaid on his big board, where the tight end is ranked 19th. "He has excellent hands...and he has great speed, though he didn't run at the combine."
If there are any critiques of Kincaid's skill set, most of them would center around his issues as a blocker. He does not have the physicality to sustain blocks in the run game, and his PFF grade in pass protection (60.0) is one of the worst at the position. Many NFL teams want their No. 1 tight ends to at least be competent in both pass-catching as well as blocking, so if Kincaid hopes to fill that role with his next team, he will need to improve in the latter area.
Scouts have not seen much of Kincaid since the 2022 season ended, as he has dealt with a back injury that prevented him from participating at the combine and Utah's pro day. That has not led to any wavering from draft analysts in terms of his place among the other prospects. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said on his "Move the Stick" podcast that Kincaid has passed his physical, and in crafting his top 50 prospects, he could not "find 10 players better than him."
"I know you can say he's a little bit older," Jeremiah said. "He had a back [injury], which I'm told he passed all his physicals. He's fine there. When you turn on the tape, there's not 10 players better than this dude in this draft."
Jeremiah is correct; despite his need for growth as a blocker, the film shows what kind of impact Kincaid can bring to an offense. Perhaps that talent is enough to convince Washington that they need to bolster its tight end room even further.