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Should NY Jets splurge on breakout Rams G Kevin Dotson?

Kevin Dotson
Kevin Dotson

The New York Jets might want to give Kevin Dotson a call if they’re searching for a young offensive line star in free agency

The largest contract for an offensive lineman in the 2024 free agent market just might go to Kevin Dotson, a 27-year-old guard who broke out in 2023 as a member of the Los Angeles Rams.

It would mark the culmination of what has been a meteoric rise for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ former fourth-round pick. Less than six months ago, Dotson was traded from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles for the measly price of a Day 3 pick swap. Along with Dotson, the Steelers sent their 2024 fifth-round pick and 2025 sixth-round pick to Los Angeles for a 2024 fourth-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Now, Dotson is poised to cash in on the free agent market after a season that saw him rank seventh in All-Pro voting among right guards and 12th among all guards.

It’s not often you see borderline All-Pro offensive linemen in their mid-twenties on the open market. If the Rams let Dotson walk, he is likely going to be paid handsomely.

Should the offensive line-needy New York Jets consider making an aggressive pursuit for Dotson?

Jets free agent profiles:

Basic info

  • Age: 27.3
  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 321 pounds
  • College: Louisiana
  • Experience: 4 years (Drafted Round 4, Pick 135 by Pittsburgh in 2020)
  • Teams: Steelers (2020-22), Rams (2023-present)
  • Previous contract: 4 years, $3.95M (Rookie contract)
  • Did not test in 2020 pre-draft cycle

Role

Traded to the Rams only two weeks before the season opener, Dotson began the year as a backup and did not appear in Los Angeles’ first three games.

Dotson made his season debut as the starting right guard in Week 4 because of an injury to starting left tackle Alaric Jackson. Right guard Joe Noteboom moved to left tackle to replace Jackson, and Dotson filled in at right guard for Noteboom.

Dotson looked dominant in his season debut, helping Los Angeles earn a 29-23 overtime victory on the road against Indianapolis. The Rams were so impressed with Dotson that they kept him in the starting lineup for the next game despite Jackson’s return. Dotson would stake his claim to the right guard position, serving as the Rams’ starting right guard for each of their final 14 games plus their lone playoff game in Detroit.

In 2022, Dotson started all 17 games at left guard for Pittsburgh. He started 13 games over his first two seasons, with 11 at left guard and two at right guard.

2023 performance

Dominant run blocking

The highlight of Dotson’s breakout season was his run blocking. He was an integral cog for a Rams run game that finished the season ranked sixth-best in rushing DVOA.

Dotson earned an 88.8 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, which led all guards.

Showcasing Dotson’s value is the difference in Los Angeles’ rushing performance before and after he joined the starting lineup. From Weeks 1-3, Los Angeles ranked 28th in yards per rush attempt (3.4). Dotson made his first start in Week 4, and from that point through the end of the year, Los Angeles ranked eighth in yards per rush attempt (4.5).

Excellent pass protection

Dotson thrived in pass protection, too.

Per PFF, Dotson allowed 20 pressures on 520 pass-blocking snaps, giving him an allowed pressure rate of 3.8% that ranked 14th-best out of 78 qualified guards (83rd percentile).

Adding to the impressiveness of his pass-blocking production, Dotson had a relatively tough role in the Rams’ offense. He faced a true pass set (excludes plays with fewer than 4 rushers, play action, screens, short dropbacks, and throws under 2 seconds) on 46.5% of his pass-blocking snaps, which is above the position average of 43.2% and ranked 17th-highest out of 78 qualifiers.

Dotson’s pass-blocking production looks even better when you account for the above-average difficulty of his assignments. His net pressure rate was -1.6%, meaning he allowed pressure 1.6% less often than he would be expected to after adjusting for his true pass set frequency. This ranked 11th-best among guards, three spots higher than his raw pressure rate. It was fifth-best among right guards.

Net pressure rate among RG (2023, min. 200 pass-blocking snaps):

(Allowed pressure rate compared to G league average, after adjusting expectations based on true pass set frequency)

  1. Brandon Scherff, JAX (-2.97%)
  2. Robert Hunt, MIA (-2.60%)
  3. Greg Van Roten, LV (-2.04%)
  4. Kevin Zeitler, BAL (-1.85%)
  5. Kevin Dotson, LAR (-1.58%)

Concerning knack for costly pressures

While Dotson’s overall consistency as a pass-blocker was strong, it is concerning that his pressures tended to be costly. Of the 20 pressures he allowed, more than half of them resulted in the quarterback being knocked down. Dotson yielded four sacks and seven hits.

With 11 sacks-plus-hits allowed on 520 pass-blocking snaps, Dotson allowed a sack-plus-hit rate of 2.12%, which ranked 67th out of 78 qualifiers. The league average for guards was 1.36%.

Across the NFL in 2023, only 26.1% of total pressures allowed by guards were sacks or hits. For Dotson, this number was a whopping 55% (11 of 20).

Cleaning up the penalties

Dotson struggled with penalties in Pittsburgh. Through three seasons, he had 20 penalties on 2,083 offensive snaps. That’s an average of 9.6 penalties per 1,000 snaps, which is nearly double the 2023 league average for guards (4.9).

This is an area where he improved significantly in 2023. Dotson was only called for two penalties on 881 offensive snaps (2.3 per 1,000).

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

The two areas where Dotson skyrocketed in 2023 are the run game and penalties. Prior to his 2023 success in both categories, Dotson struggled in these areas.

Dotson’s career-high run-blocking grade in Pittsburgh was only 61.1, and his average grade across the three seasons was 59.0. His elite performance in 2023 was a shock. As we discussed earlier, Dotson also showed immense improvement in the penalty department.

Dotson’s excellent pass-blocking consistency was nothing new. In fact, he was even more efficient during his Pittsburgh career. Dotson allowed 27 pressures on 1,259 pass-blocking snaps with the Steelers, a stunning pressure rate of 2.1%.

Notably, this was with 47.5% of his snaps in Pittsburgh being true pass sets, which is higher than his 46.5% rate in 2023. Using the 2023 league average for guards (43.2% of pass-blocking snaps being true pass sets), Dotson’s net pressure rate as a Steeler was -3.4%, which is incredible. It would’ve been the best among all guards in 2023, beating Brandon Scherff’s -3.0%.

However, Dotson’s penchant for allowing sacks and hits was also nothing new. Even in Pittsburgh, 13 of Dotson’s 27 allowed pressures were sacks or hits (7 sacks and 6 hits), which is a 48.1% rate. Remember, the 2023 league average for guards was 26.1%, so this is still an absurdly high number even if it is a few notches below his 55% mark in 2023.

Having one season where a large portion of your pressures are converted into sacks or hits could be an abberation. After all, it’s mostly up to the quarterback to prevent pressures from turning into sacks or hits. However, with a four-season sample of consistently producing extremely high pressure-to-knockdown conversion rates, it does seem like this is a legitimate part of Dotson’s game. He rarely gets beat, but when he does, it’s often ugly.

Scheme fit

A drastic scheme change was arguably the main reason for Dotson’s improvement in 2023.

In 2022, Dotson played in an extremely zone-heavy scheme under Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Dotson had a 2.18-to-1 ratio of zone-blocking snaps to gap-blocking snaps (for reference, the 2023 league average was 1.23-to-1). Dotson and fellow Steelers guard James Daniels tied for the third-lowest gap-blocking percentage among all guards at 24.7% of their run-blocking snaps.

Coming over to Los Angeles, Dotson moved into a gap-heavy scheme, and it worked wonders for him.

In 2023, Dotson’s gap-blocking percentage was 55.7%, ranking fourth-highest among guards. His zone-to-gap ratio was 0.7-to-1.

The high rate of gap concepts was perfect for emphasizing Dotson’s strengths. He led all guards with a 90.8 PFF run-blocking grade on gap plays, which was 8.9 points higher than the closest guard.

This could be concerning for the Jets, as they are not a gap-heavy team. They do run a more balanced scheme than most people realize – they are not zone-heavy to the extent that Pittsburgh was in 2022 – but they are nowhere near the Rams’ level of gap usage.

Interestingly, the Rams used to be a zone-heavy team under Sean McVay. That’s who they were when they won the Super Bowl in 2021. Since the championship, McVay has been molding a new identity for the Rams’ offense. The run game we saw in 2023 looked nothing like the one that NFL fans became used to seeing from McVay’s team in its heyday, and it worked out great for both Dotson and the entire team.

Durability

Dotson’s durability track record is fairly strong. In four seasons, he’s missed nine games due to injury, and eight of those came in one stretch during the 2021 season.

Dotson did not miss any games due to injury in 2023; his three DNPs were due to him being a backup. He started all 17 games in 2022.

The last time Dotson missed a game due to injury was in 2021, when he missed the Steelers’ final eight games with an ankle injury.

Dotson missed one game with a shoulder injury in 2020. He missed two other games, although those were due to COVID-19.

Projected cost

Spotrac projects Dotson will receive a four-year, $66 million deal, which averages out to $16.5 million per year. This would make him the fifth-highest-paid guard in terms of both total value and average annual value.

This seems like a fair estimate. Dotson is in his prime at 27 years old and coming off a season of elite production. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get a contract in this neighborhood.

Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney are two worthy comparisons from recent seasons. In 2022, Scherff signed a three-year, $49.5 million deal ($16.5M per year) with $30 million guaranteed. In 2021, Thuney signed a five-year, $80 million deal ($16M per year) with $48 million guaranteed.

Flag Check

I recently wrote a pair of articles that analyzed what the Jets can learn from their hits and misses in free agency. The idea was to determine which green flags and red flags at the time of the signings turned out to be the best predictors of what would happen.

Let’s take a look at Dotson’s profile and see which aspects of it are reminiscent of the Jets’ hits (like D.J. Reed and Tyler Conklin) and which aspects are concerningly similar to the Jets’ whiffs (like Laken Tomlinson and C.J. Uzomah).

Green flags

For starters, Dotson offers a track record of legitimately impressive production, which both Reed and Conklin offered. He’s not a player who is profiting off non-production-related factors like draft pedigree, name recognition, awards, or lucking into being on a team that goes deep into the playoffs.

Dotson has been posting tremendous numbers as a pass-blocker for his whole career. It took him some time to develop as a run blocker, but he became an elite player in that phase in 2023. He also improved in the penalty department.

The durability track record is good, and Dotson is also on the younger side for a free agent lineman.

There’s a lot to like here.

Red flags

Despite his gaudy production, solid durability, and ideal age, Dotson carries a large share of red flags that scare me immensely on the free agent market.

First off, I wonder about the legitimacy of the pass-blocking numbers he posted over his first three seasons.

While Dotson broke out as a run blocker in 2023, his four-year sample of great pass-blocking production is one of the most appealing feathers in his cap as he enters the open market. This large sample of production should help him feel like a safer target.

However, if Dotson was truly as good as those numbers claimed, why was he cast aside for a measly Day 3 pick swap? Why did the Rams make him a backup when they acquired him?

Offensive linemen might be the most difficult players to analyze via statistics. Numbers can tell the wrong story about any player, but it happens especially frequently with linemen. To really understand their impact, you have to watch them closely on every snap. There is a lot that can be overlooked when you simply slap some numbers on them.

Every NFL team’s pro scouting department has done extensive work on every player in the league. I’m skeptical of whether Dotson was any good in Pittsburgh if the trade market determined he was nothing more than a backup with the value of a Day 3 pick swap. The numbers had to be missing things that Pittsburgh and the rest of the league were seeing.

If it is true that Dotson was actually a backup-level player in Pittsburgh – not the elite pass-blocker that his numbers suggest he was – then it means we have one of the most terrifying free agent archetypes on our hands: a one-year wonder.

The Jets know what it’s like to be seduced by a one-year wonder. C.J. Uzomah lured them in because of one decent year where his numbers were propped up by a great supporting cast.

Laken Tomlinson got the Jets to buy in after making his first Pro Bowl at 29 years old. Yes, Tomlinson also put up good numbers in the prior season, giving him two straight good years. So he wasn’t exactly a one-year wonder. However, as we discussed, he struggled for his first five seasons before Trent Williams came along, so he still classified as an outlier-breakout type of free agent.

And that’s the type of player you should be afraid of in free agency: ones who came out of nowhere right before hitting the open market.

In Dotson’s case, you have a player who was viewed by the NFL as a backup only six months ago. This was at 27 years old with three seasons and 30 starts under his belt – plenty of time to evaluate him. Coming from the starting point of being a fourth-round pick, it’s safe to say that Dotson was nowhere remotely close to a $66 million player as recently as September.

Now, 14 starts later, he’s going to be paid as a top-five guard?

It feels extremely risky.

That’s not to downplay Dotson’s accomplishments in 2023. He was excellent. But when you’re making this big of an investment, you want to feel secure about the long-term outlook of the player you’re investing in. I don’t think you can say that with Dotson.

Can we be fully confident that Dotson’s last 14 games will say more about his future than his first 30? It’s possible he legitimately improved in 2023 and is set to thrive for years to come, but we cannot be certain about that until he proves it.

There is also the scheme fit factor. That might be the single most important piece to this puzzle.

Dotson’s breakout was not totally random. It coincided with a stark scheme change that seemed to perfectly suit his strengths. This makes it seem likely that Dotson is a scheme-dependent player.

So, if you’re the Rams, you would feel great about re-signing Dotson. You know he can dominate in your scheme. Not only that, his presence transformed the trajectory of the offense.

If you are one of the teams that run a similar scheme to the Rams, you can also feel pretty good about Dotson’s chances of continuing to thrive.

The Jets are not one of those teams, though.

The verdict

I have a pretty firm stance on this one: the Jets should stay away.

Dotson is deservedly about to earn a massive contract, as he displayed immense talent in 2023. Signing him to that massive contract is a risky proposition, though. Considering where he was only six months ago, prospective teams must figure out whether they believe his 2023 performance was a sign of things to come or a fluke.

For some teams in the league, they can afford to take on that risk. I don’t think the Jets are one of them. It would be a much different story if the Jets ran a gap-heavy run scheme, but since they are not one of those teams, I’m not convinced that Dotson would be a smart investment for them.

While Dotson’s upside is tantalizing, I do not believe he is safe enough to be worth the contract he will likely demand. A more efficient deployment of cap space would be to use the same money on multiple veteran linemen; a hypothetical example could be something like $12 million for Tyron Smith and $4 million for James Hurst. This would make more sense for a Jets team that has plenty of needs to address.

The Jets have a plethora of holes on offense and not a ton of cap space or draft capital to fill them. If they are going to allocate a sizable amount of cap space to one player, they would have to feel immensely confident in the player’s likelihood of living up to their contract. Dotson does not fit the bill.

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Jets71
Jets71
4 months ago

Agreed. Could be a flash in the pan. I’d rather sign an older vet and draft a guy later.

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