Hype isn't something usually associated with offensive linemen entering the league. Far and few between are players such as Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson, who walk into the facility from day one with enormous expectations despite not playing a snap of professional football. That same sentiment is carried for an overwhelming majority of fourth round selections.
So when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Louisiana offensive linemen Kevin Dotson in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the name recognition wasn't exactly well known among those who follow the Steelers.
However, rave reviews began to pour in for the fourth round pick, giving unusual early promise for a mid round selection.
Despite the positive reviews in the infant stages of Dotson's career, the Steelers opted to move Matt Feiler from right tackle to left guard in an attempt to re-work the team's offensive line prior to the start of the season.
As the Steelers began their stretch of games to start the 2020 season, two things became abundantly clear: Matt Feiler wasn't getting the job done at left guard, and the backup was hearing his name called by fans and media alike to become a starter sooner rather than later.
Dotson played 185 snaps between weeks 2-5 of the season (90% of possible plays), including starts in a week two victory against the Broncos, and a week five victory against the Browns. A film study on Dotson's first career start by yours truly was done, and it was clear Dotson was cut for the job despite his inexperience.
However, Dotson's role would still be kept to an emergency-only case, similar to a lion waiting to emerge from its cage. Despite playing well in Pittsburgh's final two regular season games in Feiler's absence, Dotson was replaced by Feiler in what would end up being a night to forget against Cleveland in the playoffs.
Hindsight is 20/20, yet for so many people watching the Steelers week in and week out, the consensus is Dotson may have been shorted a few opportunities during the season in favor of more experienced players. Despite Pittsburgh's season ending in ugly fashion, Dotson's performance became a bright spot of discussion heading into the offseason.
Fast-forward to present day, where the Steelers waved goodbye to three of five starting offensive linemen from a season ago, paving the way for players such as Dotson to take their rightful spot on the offensive line.
Is Dotson without weakness? Surely not. However, Dotson was able to prove himself as one of the few bright spots on an otherwise below-average offensive line in 2020, a drawback many feel may follow the Steelers into 2021.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Steelers' offensive line as the 29th-best unit in the league, or fourth-worst, however, you would like to spin it. Analyst Steve Palazzolo had this to say on the big men up front for the black and gold:
"With three new starters up front, Pittsburgh's offensive line enters 2021 with its most question marks in years. The unit regressed to 17th in our final 2020 rankings after years of exemplifying the way offensive lines should be built — with solid starters and limited weaknesses in the starting lineup... The Steelers enter 2021 with big question marks at both tackle spots and center. The offensive line looks like a bottom-tier unit unless players develop across the board."
With a healthy Zach Banner and David DeCastro back on the right side of the offensive line, a new presence in the form of rookie center Kendrick Green and Chukwuma Okorafor returning to left tackle duties, the Steelers' offensive line looks to brush the shadows of 2020 far away from the identity they wish to create. Dotson is perhaps the biggest component returning this season.
There's no short-selling the opportunity Dotson has in front of him. After stellar appearances in his rookie season, Dotson will now be faced with the challenge to do so on a weekly basis for a minimum of seventeen games.
Dotson possesses the tools and characteristics to anchor the interior of the Steelers' offensive line for years to come, and year two looks to provide ample opportunity for Dotson to prove, of many things, that his hype is indeed real.
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