Gordon Monson: Hit the lights, Charlie, and review the film of Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, bound to be a first-round NFL draft pick

Kincaid is scheduled to participate in Utah’s pro day later this month.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) smiles after scoring a touchdown for hte Utes, in PAC 12 football action between the Utah Utes and the Oregon State Beavers, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.

Playing a game against Utah during the 2022 football season was a bit like slicing a melon in half, pulling it apart and then attempting to plop it back together again with perfect symmetry.

Problem was, the plopping was never perfectly symmetrical. It was always slightly lopsided, always off-kilter.

The one half represented what was obvious to everyone. It hardly took a trained pro scout to recognize that Dalton Kincaid was Utah’s No. 1 offensive threat. The other half was ominous, representing any defense’s top challenge, its top priority — stopping that No. 1 threat.

That’s why the former Ute tight end is projected — despite not participating in drills during the NFL Combine due to injury — by a whole lot of pro scouts to be a first-round pick in the coming draft. As he should be, mixed in with many other gifted tight-end prospects, at least to anyone with eyes to see, with a mind to process what is plain to see.

A review of Kincaid’s performance last season does the substantiating. Reading about it is fun. Watching film is fundamental. And while acknowledging that hyperbole is abundant among those commenting on college talent, those who actually saw Kincaid do what he did in live action are not dissuaded, not one whit. They are rather all the more convinced of his positive promise in the pros, his enormous upside. The big tight end looked just flat superior to the poor schoolboys trying to defend him, and though he was a schoolboy himself, he was more like a full-grown Doberman Pinscher running with puppies.

Hype? No, not really.

Any NFL team that downgrades Kincaid — many of them will not — wasn’t — isn’t — paying attention.

Hit the lights, will ya, Charlie? Let’s check the film.

Here Kincaid is ruining USC, running around the Trojans, through them, over them, catching every pass thrown his way — 16 balls, in all — for 234 yards and a touchdown. That’s right. He had a good season in a single game against an undefeated opponent that might not have had the world’s best defense, but that had athletes, enough of them to be ranked at the time as the country’s No. 7 team.

It got to the point in the Utes’ 43-42 win on numerous drives that everybody in the stadium, including the Trojans, knew the spirals were spinning to Kincaid and, still, there was no slowing the dude. He caught more passes in that outing than any Ute had in a single game in two decades, and he caught more passes than any Ute tight end had in, as far as anyone could look up in the record books, at least three decades.

NBD. It was hard to tell exactly when Kincaid transitioned from a farmer out plowing his field to a shining star just showing off.

Here he is, hauling in three consecutive throws for 54 yards, including a 30-yarder, on a key drive in which Utah cut USC’s lead to seven points. Clutch stuff. And here he is again, catching the subsequent game-tying TD pass. Here he is once more, picking up a first down, one of many, boosting the Utes to victory.

There’s Kincaid, wrapping his arms around two touchdown passes against Arizona State. There’s a game-clinching TD reception against Oregon State. There’s another TD in a tight win over Washington State. This one here is a 29-yard score against Colorado, a game in which Kincaid suffered a “minor” back fracture, if there is such a thing. And this last one, a series of catches against USC in the Pac-12 title game, contributing despite his compromised physical condition. And here the Utes are losing to Penn State in the Rose Bowl, a game in which Kincaid did not play. Had he played, would Utah have won? Who knows.

This is what we all do know: Kincaid led the Utes in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and in sudden, dynamic, explosive plays.

Teams in the NFL are finding more and more value in utilizing tight ends with skills like the ones Kincaid possesses. Namely, he’s an athlete who can be depended on to make significant plays in tight windows at significant junctures by way of that athleticism. And according to reports, his all-but-healed fractured back is not thought to be much of a concern for NFL evaluators. At one juncture during his last season at Utah, Kyle Whittingham said of him: “He’s an absolute athlete. He’s got to be one of the best tight ends in the country — without a doubt.”

It is unknown whether Whittingham was talking specifically about college tight ends or tight ends in general, college and pro.

In the case of Dalton Kincaid, hyperbole can take a flying leap. The man has enough ability, if he stays healthy, the imagination has enough elasticity, to figure maybe it was rather accurately the latter, not the former. Which is to say, the plopping of the halved, lopsided, unsymmetrical melon could very well continue at the next level, football’s highest.