The time between the conclusion of the NFL Player Selection Meeting (aka the draft) and the opening of training camps is the traditional 'dead period' of the NFL, where outside of a few sparsely-distributed OTAs and whatever off-field shenanigans players may get up to, there really isn't much newsworthy activity from the world of the NFL.
It's that 'dead period' that typically spawns "Top ## Players" lists, retrospective items from last season, or predictions and outcomes, to try and generate traffic and stir up debate to keep football fans happy. Pro Football Focus have, for the past few years, filled this dead period with a feature they call "Secret Superstars", detailing one player on each team that they believe falls underneath the national radar, but are set to have breakout years.
PFF's track record when it comes to predicting the Bucs' "Secret Superstar" has been mixed - ranging from 'knocked it out the park' hits like Michael Bennett, to wide-off-the-target misses like Quincy Black. This year, everyone's favourite football stat geeks awarded the title of "Secret Superstar" to the longest-tenured active Buccaneer - offensive tackle Demar Doston.
Dotson, who joined the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in 2009, had only played one year of football before signing with the team, and even then it was as a defensive lineman. My first memory of Dotson, and I'm not sure why this in particular stuck in my mind (though most likely because of my embarrassingly immature sense of humour and Dotson's jersey number), was in Week 15 of his rookie season, on the road against Seattle, where he was flagged for failing to report in as eligible when the Bucs lined up in one of their six-OL sets.
He first rose to notability for Bucs fans the following offseason, when he spent the entire of the OTA period, and the mandatory mini-camp, as starting left tackle, due to Donald Penn's holdout over his contract. When Penn inked a new deal on the eve of training camp, Dotson was returned to the bench, where he fell to bottom of the tackle depth chart, being passed-over in favour of James Lee when Jeremy Trueblood was injured. Dotson didn't really get another opportunity to start until 2012, when he took over the starting right tackle spot from Trueblood. Last year, entrenched as starting right tackle, Dotson emerged as the only consistent bright spot on an offensive line that was marred by poor play and a continuously-changing lineup.
Here's an excerpt of what PFF had to say about Dotson:
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.
The choice of Dotson as the Bucs' "Secret Superstar" for 2014 is a fair one. Personally, I think that depending on how the Bucs choose to deploy him, in this modern game of catching-only tight ends there's a potential argument to be made for Tim Wright to be in the conversation; likewise, Clinton McDonald, who was overshadowed in Seattle by the glut of defensive line talent but who put up some very nice film, is a candidate for consideration. Ultimately, though, there's no other player (from among those who don't already receive national attention, such as Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Michael Johnson and so on) for whom you could make as strong a case as for Dotson. While he's not, in my opinion, quite as good as PFF make him out to be - he needs to work on the angling of his dropbacks in pass pro as he still does get beaten around the edge - he's still one of the best right tackles in the league right now.