In 2015, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Jameis Winston first overall in the draft and immediately added his blindside protector, Donovan Smith, one round later.
Fast forward to today and while Winston has been one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history, Smith has struggled each season. On the right side, however, Demar Dotson has been dominant and it’s time to make him Tampa’s blindside protector.
Dotson, 32, is the longest-tenured Buccaneer and has spent most of his career on the right side, but has been consistently good over the past four seasons. This year is a career best, as his 86.8 Pro Football Focus grade is not only a career-high, it’s the second best grade in the NFL. By comparison, Smith checks in at a 57th-ranked 48.4.
Dotson has especially excelled in pass protection, where Pro Football Focus gives him an 89.9 grade. He has allowed just one sack and nine total pressures this year – the second best in the NFL among tackles behind Jason Peters, who has played two less games and will not return this season. Smith has allowed five sacks, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL among tackles and ranks 13th among tackles with 26 total pressures allowed, almost triple what Doston has allowed despite playing less pass blocking snaps.
And it isn’t like Dotson is facing lesser competition on the right side. He has lined up against Leonard Williams, Cameron Jordan, Trey Flowers, Jason Pierre-Paul and Danielle Hunter among others this season. Out of that bunch, Jordan is the only one to log a sack against Doston.
In the penalty department, Dotson also draws less yellow flags. He has drawn five total penalties this year for 60 yards while Smith has been flagged seven times for 60 yards. Four of Smith’s penalties are for holding while Dotson has been called for holding just once.
Smith is only under contract until 2018 and while Doston’s age shows that he may not be a long-term solution, he is still under team control until 2019, affording Tampa Bay at least one more year to seek a full-time left tackle.
For now, protecting Winston should be Tampa Bay’s top priority and Winston’s best protector needs to play on the blindside. That man is, and always has been, Dotson.