Secret Superstars 2014: Bucs
Mike Renner looks at a right tackle who has made the long climb from practice squad to PFF Pro Bowler.
Secret Superstars 2014: Bucs
No team in football had a more dichotomous roster last season than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They featured three players with the highest grades at their respective positions (Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, and Darelle Revis) alongside four players grading in the bottom three at their positions (Davin Joseph, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Akeem Spence, and Leonard Johnson).
PFF’s highest-graded defensive tackle in football (McCoy) played with the third-lowest graded tackle (Spence) and the lowest-graded defensive end (Te’o-Nesheim). The multiple glaring holes in the roster proved to be too much for the Bucs and the 4-12 record spoiled any recognition for some impressive performances.
Outside of those three mentioned there was another Buccaneer that got overlooked because of the talent surrounding him. Demar Dotson played on a Tampa Bay line that conceded 47 sacks on the season (sixth-most) and had running backs run behind it to the tune of 3.8 yards per carry (25th), but he can’t help the talent surrounding him (i.e. PFF’s lowest-graded right guard). Dotson could only control his performance and he put up one amazing season. The former practice squadder developed into a PFF Pro-Bowler he’s Tampa Bay’s Secret Superstar.
Developing into a Star
If you would have said back in 2007, Dotson’s junior year at Souther Mississippi, that Demar Dotson would someday be one of the best tackles in the NFL, people would have thought you were insane if you said. It’s not because scouts thought he wouldn’t translate to tackle in the NFL, it’s because scouts hadn’t even heard of him.
Back in 2007 he was languishing away as a backup for the Southern Mississippi basketball team. Dotson was a slightly undersized center averaging just three points a game on a team that didn’t make a postseason tournament. It wasn’t until his senior year that the then 268-pound Dotson made the switch to football. Even then he was still slightly miscast, lining up defensive line for the Golden Eagles.
On the field, the results weren’t pretty. Dotson started just one game and made four total tackles for a team that finished 7-6. Come draft day Dotson’s name was predictably absent, but Mark Dominik saw a future tackle and signed him as an undrafted free agent. Still a long shot, Dotson would make the practice squad his rookie year and play just 171 snaps (most of them as a blocking tight end) his first three seasons while he learned the position.
It wasn’t until Week 2 of the 2012 season where, filling in for the injured Jeremy Trueblood, Dotson held up well enough against the Giants to earn the starting job for good under Greg Schiano. Those first fifteen starts showed considerable promise as he finished with a +4.9 overall grade and slightly positive tallies in both run and pass blocking. It wasn’t until this past season though that all the pieces really started falling into place for the right tackle.
A Pro-Bowl-Caliber Season
The elite tackles in this league have the unique ability to perform consistently and limit their bad games. Joe Thomas had only one negatively-graded game this past season while Jordan Gross’ lowest graded game was just -0.6. After playing every snap of the 2013 season, Dotson joined their company with just three negatively-graded games and low pass blocking grade of -0.7. His +23.0 overall grade was good enough for third among right tackles and 13th among all tackles.
Dotson’s run blocking (+2.9) was a step up from his 2012 performance, but it was his pass blocking that really went to the next level. Dotson finished 15th among tackles with a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 95.3, allowing five sacks, two hits, and 27 hurries on the season. Just for reference, Donald Penn had a PBE of 93.5 and yielded 12 sacks, six hits, and 28 hurries. It was a truly special season for the fifth-year pro that looked like a severe project as recently as two years ago.
It will be tough for Dotson to improve upon his superb 2013 season, but he has all the tools do it. At 6-foot-9 and 315 pounds, Dotson is as fluid an athlete with as quick a pair of feet you’ll find at that size. He’s tremendous in space and, one would think he could easily make the switch to left tackle if need be.
The Bucs are hoping that won’t be necessary though with new additions to the line. Left tackle Anthony Collins was signed from Cincinnati along with new center Evan Dietrich-Smith from Green Bay. Combine that with the return of former all-pro Carl Nicks and the Bucs will be sending out, at least on paper, a much-improved offensive line from 2013.
One of the reasons Tampa was able to sign all that talent was due to the contract they gave to Dotson last offseason. Coming off of his first year as a starter, the right tackle received a three-year, $4.5m extension that will keep him on the roster through the 2016 season. As the 23rd–highest paid right tackle, Dotson is far and away one of the best values at the position and a deserving Secret Superstar.
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