If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to meaningfully change their fortunes and strengthen their ability to make a deep postseason run, then that’s going to have to coincide with a substantial evolution of the offensive line—not just because it was under par last season, but also because they lost three starters.
There is some reason for optimism, however, and second-year Kevin Dotson may be the biggest. A fourth-round pick a year ago, he started four games last season due to injury—two a right guard, two a left—and played well. Pro Football Focus views him as the Steelers’ most underrated player.
Some Steelers fans would have you believe that Dotson is already a guaranteed superstar and their offensive line is in good shape because of it. And while that may be putting the cart before the horse, there are certainly reasons for optimism. Dotson earned a PFF run-blocking grade of 87.2 last season and should be part of the solution to getting the running game back on track.
I’m not sure that many Steelers fans are saying that the offensive line is in good shape because of Dotson, but it is fair to point out that there has been quite a buying spree with regards to the Louisiana-Lafayette product, banking on him being a legitimate full-time starter of high caliber.
He may well be that, but for the moment, we only have 360 snaps of tape to go from, which is a small sample size. What we have seen from him to date has been promising, encouraging, and even in and of itself, good.
But that neither came without room for improvement, nor guarantees future results. Now, it’s reasonable to expect a second-year player, especially one who already has a not insignificant number of snaps under his belt, to take a step forward in his evolution as a professional and a starter, but we do have to see it on the field first.
Still, Dotson may be the second-least concerning spot along the offensive line right now, behind stalwart David DeCastro at right guard. For the moment, Zach Banner is projected as the right tackle, who has one career starter, and is coming off of a torn ACL. Chukwuma Okorafor is penciled in at left tackle, who has 18 career starts, but none of the left side.
And there’s a big question mark in the middle. The Steelers drafted Kendrick Green in the third round believing that he will be capable of competing for that starting job at center as a rookie, but it’s always asking a lot for a rookie to start. If he is not up to the task, the responsibility would fall to either B.J. Finney or J.C. Hassenauer.
But on the optimistic side, if players like Dotson and Green pan out, then this could be the beginning of the nucleus of the next strong offensive line in Pittsburgh.