Despite being not invited to the 2020 NFL combine and being drafted in the fourth round at 135 overall last season, Kevin Dotson has made a name for himself in his limited action last season in Pittsburgh. Highly regarded for his physicality as a run blocker coming out of Louisiana, Dotson has garnered the praise of local media thanks to his impressive play as a pass blocker, recording the fifth-highest pass blocking grade assigned to offensive guards last season via Pro Football Focus. While Dotson’s stellar play in pass protection is a good sign for the second-year player likely heading for a starting role at LG, I wanted to take a deep dive into some of Dotson’s key reps in the run game to consider how a full-time role may benefit the offensive line in the ground game heading into 2021.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dotson only played 358 snaps last season with playing time at both LG and RG. However, despite being a rookie in a pandemic-impacted offseason, Dotson made an impact right away for Pittsburgh, filling in Week 1 once Stefan Wisniewski went down to injury and got his first career start at RG the next week against Denver.
Dotson would get phased out of the lineup once David DeCastro and Matt Feiler were healthy enough to suit up, but Dotson arguably should have been considered over Feiler at LG given what he showed on film. Dating back to his time with the Rajin’ Cajuns, Dotson has been known for being a bully on the offensive line, taking the persona of a bouncer throwing guys out of the club with his strength and power. Needless to say, that persona stuck in the league, as he provided several examples of tossing guys to the ground and physically finishing on top of them for the pancake block. Look no further than this rep against Pro-Bowl DT #91 Fletcher Cox where Dotson, aligned at RG, absorbs the contact of Cox off of the snap and uses his momentum against him, getting him off-balance and planting him into the ground for the big pancake block, helping spring James Conner for the big run up the middle.
Dotson is a stout, barrel-chested individual that can be extremely difficult to move off of his spot when he plays with good leverage. He is incredibly strong in the weight room and can move grown men off of their spot against their will, being able to turn his shoulders and create natural seals in the running game for his back to run behind. He does this here well on the left side against Buffalo, but Jaylen Samuels doesn’t have the vision or quickness to make the right cut up the hole, resulting in little-to-no gain. Now imagine the likes of Najee Harris taking this handoff with the space Dotson provides. This play easily gets into the 2nd level and likely for first down yardage.
While characterized as more of a mauler as a run blocker, Dotson displayed a fair amount of athleticism on the move as a run blocker, contrary to my initial thoughts of him coming out of college. He looked tight as times at Louisiana, not having the necessary movement skills to get out in space and pick up defenders down the field. He proved me wrong on several occasions in 2020, as we see here on this screen play against the Eagles where Dotson disengages and goes downfield, picking up #34 Cre’Von LeBlanc in the open field, clearing him out of the play and helping James Conner get to the line to gain. For being 6’4 and 321lb, this ability to move in space and get on a man like Dotson does here is pretty impressive.
Dotson also showcased the ability to be effective as a puller when asked to step in for David DeCastro who dealt with injury off-and-on in 2020. Here against Cleveland, we see Dotson pull from the RG spot, getting the key block on #54 Olivier Vernon o spring Conner on the edge for first down yardage.
While there was a lot of good to highlight from Dotson’s game as a run blocker in 2020, there are several areas he needs to clean up to be a more consistent player. In my player analysis before the 2020 NFL Draft, I noted that he tends to rise up higher out of his stance off of the snap of the football, bringing questions about his natural bend and hip mobility for the position. You definitely catch a glimpse of that here, along with inconsistent lateral foot quickness, as he is in bad position from the start on this rep versus Buffalo, getting too high and having his hands outside the defender’s frame, making it easy for Vernon Butler to jab Dotson’s chest to knock him back which causes him to topple over due to lack of base and balance on the move.
While this can be a concern when considering that Pittsburgh will look to incorporate more zone concepts in the running game, Dotson has showed vast improvement in his movement skills in the run game from his final season in college to his first action in the league, suggesting he still has room to grow as a zone-scheme blocker. Obviously, his skill set more matches the likes of a power-based run scheme where he can be a masher upfront, but he isn’t a liability on the move, and has showcased he can be quite the blocker in Matt Canada’s offense.
Should he continue to improve his get off from the snap of the football, something OL coach Adrian Klemm has emphasized at the start of OTAs, Dotson should look to take the leap in Year Two as a quality run blocker that now will have the ability to clear lanes for the likes of Najee Harris, who himself will capitalize on his vision and ability to create outside of what the offensive line creates for him up front. Should the athletic Kendrick Green win the starting job at center out of camp and David DeCastro return to form after dealing with injury for most of the 2020 campaign, Pittsburgh could be rolling out an aggressive, mobile group along the interior that can create running lanes on the inside but also get out in space and utilize more zone concepts and screen game work than we have seen in the past. Overall, Dotson’s play has me excited for a rebound in the run game in 2021 and gives off the feeling that skeptics are going to consider the Najee Harris pick as a good investment with improved results up front.