Jan 5, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) rushes past Houston Texans guard Wade Smith (74) during the second quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Geno Atkins has quietly become one of the most dominant players in the NFL, as he’s been an interior nightmare for every opposing offense, and he’s the biggest reason why the Cincinnati Bengals have gone from a 4-11-1 team in complete rebuilding mode in the 2011 offseason, to a dark-horse Super-Bowl contender in 2013.
But how could a traditional three-technique defensive-tackle have such an impact in a league dominated by pass-happy offenses that often negate the impact of interior defensive lineman?
Well, you become one of the best pass-rushers in the league, even if it is from the inside. According to Pro Football Focus’ numbers, Atkins graded out almost two times better than any other DT the site has ever charted, mostly because of his ability to consistently pressure opposing QBs from his DT spot:
"The best performance we’ve ever seen from a defensive tackle during our time grading, Atkins is setting about redefining what you can expect from his spot. How good was he? Good enough to have the highest grades in run defense and pass rushing… besides earning heaps of praise from any guard who had the misfortune of going up against him. The numbers are gaudy with Atkins, yet they’re only a piece of the puzzle that explains how dominant he was.Key Stat: His 78 combined sacks, hits and hurries were 20 more than the next best defensive tackle."
Simply put, he’s become what the new-age DT needs to be like. Gone are they days of the mammoth 310 lb+ DTs, as they will soon find themselves passed over in favor of lineman in the mold of Atkins.
In looking at the NFL’s most indispensable players, Atkins comes in at #1 for his impact on what’s become an elite Bengals defense:
"He is a force, seemingly unstoppable in every single aspect of D-line play. Atkins plugs the middle, commands attention and still puts up sensational numbers, sacking the quarterback 12.5 times last year and forcing four fumbles. Atkins ranked sixth in the NFL in knockdowns and hurries, but tops among defensive tackles.The guy is an absolute monster. He has a gigantic domino effect on defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Atkins was the No. 1 reason why the Bengals made the playoffs last year and the top reason why they can be back in the tournament this season."
The most astounding statistic when talking about Atkins is the number 3.
That’s how many NFL seasons the 25-year-old has under his belt, which beckons the question: can the All-Pro be even greater in 2013? It won’t hurt that he’ll be playing in a contract year, and likely the largest contract ever signed by a defensive player at some point.
Not too shabby for the 120th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft.