According to Pro Football Focus, an advanced look at players performances by grading each play, Domata Peko ranked as the team's worst defensive tackle with Dhani Jones and Robert Geathers as the only players grading worse overall on defense. While he was never really dominated in the trenches, Tank Johnson has been nothing spectacular. In fact, if you base their grades alone, the best defensive linemen on the team are Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Frostee Rucker and Pat Sims. Kids. Youngsters. Exactly what you want to build your foundation around.
With the national media headlining Carson Palmer updates to such a degree that everything else related to the team becomes meaningless trivial squabbling, the truth is, there are reasons to be hopeful and optimistic. But Carson Palmer demanding to leave outweighs all of that, someone would argue. I'm sure we can live without his league-leading pix-sixes, 20 interceptions and 19th ranked 82.4 passer rating. I like Palmer. But is he that irreplaceable? Let him retire, trade him for picks. Whatever you have to do. Keep the players that want to be here and get something in return for the players that don't.
But there are reasons for optimism. For example, the team's rookie class in 2010 seems to have a huge ceiling. Another is the team's foundation on defense. Along with the Fisher Price Package on the defensive line, you have two solid outside linebackers in Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga, who hopes to move into a more central leadership role next season. Are the team's linebackers great? No. They are solid enough with Maualuga looking to take over the defensive duties that Dhani Jones would leave if he departed the team during the offseason.
That being said, Pro Football Focus featured a piece on Atkins, calling him a secret superstar. Though, in truth, he's no secret to us.
Come the second half of the season, more praise came Atkins’ way as he turned more pressures into sacks, four in the final nine weeks of the season. That alone got him onto the radar of many fans, but it was his consistency as part of the nickel defense that made him a fearsome player. By the end of the year, he had totaled 31 quarterback disruptions, only 12 defensive tackles had more. Most noteworthy is that Atkins accumulated his on fewer snaps than all of the guys above him. Furthermore, Atkins converted 10.69% of his pass rushing attempts into disruptions, good enough for 4th best among all NFL defensive tackles. More than Kevin Williams (6.63%). More than Haloti Ngata (5.5%). And more than our top rated defensive tackle, Kyle Williams (9.77%).