The Buffalo Bills have plenty of training camp battles to keep fans and pundits interested through the dog days of August. However, not every position is one up for grabs. As a team that’s won 47 regular season games over the last four seasons, the Bills clearly have one of the league’s better rosters. That means that, at some spots, they have players among the top-tier of the league at their positions.
Left tackle is one of those spots where the Bills aren’t searching for a new starter, as they have comfortably had their left tackle in place since the 2017 season. Over that time, that left tackle has grown into one of the better players in the league, and he’s also grown into one of the more lovable players in team history.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss Buffalo’s left tackle — a big presence whose continued growth and success could lead the Bills to even greater heights.
Name: Dion Dawkins
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 320 pounds
Age: 29 (30 on 4/26/2024)
Experience/Draft: 7; selected by Buffalo in the second round (No. 63 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft
Acquired: Second-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Dawkins enters the third year of a four-year, $58.3 million deal he signed in August 2020. For the 2023 season, Dawkins carries a cap hit of $14,854,294, which is the fourth-highest on the team behind Josh Allen, Tre’Davious White, and Stefon Diggs. If the Bills were to release or trade Dawkins, they’d be on the hook for a dead-cap number of $12.866 million.
2022 Recap: Dawkins started 15 regular-season games and two playoff games en route to his second straight Pro Bowl nod. The one game he missed was due to an ankle injury he suffered in late November, causing him to miss the second tilt against the New England Patriots. Dawkins allowed just three sacks on the season, which was his best showing since his rookie season. However, he committed 12 penalties, which was the fourth-highest total in the NFL. It was also the highest total for Dawkins since the 2018 season. Speed-rushers seem to give him problems, and he was especially susceptible to those players after suffering that ankle injury late in the season; however, Dawkins was and still is one of the Bills’ top linemen.
Positional outlook: Dawkins is really the only option Buffalo has at left tackle. In the team’s first depth chart, which was released on August 8, Tommy Doyle is listed as Dawkins’ immediate backup. Ryan Van Demark and Richard Gouraige are the other left tackles. David Quessenberry and Brandon Shell are listed as backups to Spencer Brown, who remains listed as the team’s starter at right tackle.
2023 Offseason: Dawkins had been healthy for the entire offseason program, but he left practice recently due to a hand injury. He’s considered day-to-day.
2023 Season outlook: Aside from Allen, there may be no more important player on this roster than Dawkins, who is tasked with protecting the franchise quarterback’s blind side. If the offensive line doesn’t fulfill its duty, then the offense can’t do what it’s capable of doing each week. And if Allen is injured, well...it’s not going to be good.
Dawkins has a thousand-megawatt smile and a gregarious personality to match, and I struggle to think of other players in my years following the team that were both this well-liked in the local and national media. I think that his phenomenal personality sometimes clouds judgment on his play, which is not as consistently dominant as any of us would like, and I’m sure that includes Dawkins himself. However, it’s clear that the Bills need Dawkins to play to the best of his ability in order to succeed, and he has continued to grow into someone respected for his play all around the league.
Reducing his penalty numbers while keeping rushers off of Allen would obviously help, but it’s not as if there’s a question here regarding Dawkins’ status on the team. He’s going to be the starting left tackle, and if the Bills are going to make a Super Bowl run, he’s going to have to play like a franchise left tackle for at least 20 games. Fortunately for the Bills, Dawkins is fully capable of doing so.