The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line has been the on-field MVP to this point in the season. At least the right side of the line, which is surprising giving who is seeing playing time. The starting right side of the line was supposed to be David DeCastro at guard and Zach Banner at tackle.
DeCastro missed the first week due to an injury and was replaced by Stefen Wisniewski. Wisniewski and Banner were both injured in week 1 against the New York Giants. Banner was lost of the season with an ACL injury. Wisniewski has been on injured reserve since but is eligible to return to the team when ready.
With DeCastro, Banner, and Wisniewski all missing time due to injuries so far this season it has left the job up to Chukwuma Okorafor and Kevin Dotson.
Okorafor was in a heated battle with Zach Banner to take the starting right tackle job this season. Banner won the job but suffered an unfortunate knee injury in week 1. Luckily for the Steelers, they had Okorafor ready to step in.
He has started each game in place of an injured Banner and has been solid. Okorafor was a third-round pick out of Western Michigan in 2018. He started four games in his first two seasons due to injury. Now, he is the starter the rest of the way for the 2020 season.
Okorafor is also likely a starting tackle on this team for the foreseeable future. With left-tackle Aljeandro Villanueva an impending free agent, it is likely both Okorafor and Banner will start at tackle next season. One of the two, however, will have to move to the left side of the line.
Dotson was the Steelers 2020 fourth-round pick. General manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin were very high on Dotson. They believed that if he had been invited to the Senior Bowl his draft stock would have sky-rocketed. Instead, Dotson was not invited and the Steelers took advantage by waiting until the fourth round to snag him.
Now, we are all seeing why Tomlin and Colbert were so excited about him. Through the first six weeks Dotson has seen a lot of playing time due to injury. During that span, he has been an absolute “people-mover.”
He is opening lanes in the run game, which has helped the Steelers establish the run even against the Cleveland Browns, who rank as one of the top rush defenses in the NFL. Even more amazing, Dotson is rated as the top pass-blocking guard in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
The Steelers on-field MVPs
Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner are having resurgent years. Chase Claypool has burst onto the scene as a rookie wide receiver. Defensively the Steelers are playing amazingly well, but none of those players is the on-field MVP in my eyes.
Dotson and Okorafor have been outstanding on the right side of the line. They are opening run lanes for Conner and the other backs and keeping Roethlisberger from taking too many hits or being under too much pressure.
According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers offensive line ranks fourth in the league running off the right-tackle. They also rank second in the league running off the right end. Those are their best statistical run areas so far this season. Running behind a third-year player, in his first year as a starter, and a rookie.
In terms of rushing, the Steelers’ right side of the line is vastly outperforming the left side. That is due to some great play from Dotson and Okorafor. It seems the Steelers have a guard and tackle of the future in these two players and right now their play and ability to meet the call of “next man up” when needed makes them the on-field MVPs.