Scout Inc.'s Matt Williamson has been taking a look at AFC North players who could possibly have breakout seasons in 2011. While many names could possibly be placed in this category -- Carlos Dunlap, Jordan Shipley, Jermaine Gresham, Rey Maualuga, Jerome Simpson and dare I say.... Andre Smith? -- Williamson believes it will be second-year defensive lineman Geno Atkins that is poised to be a breakout star on the Bengals defense.
This is one of the quickest interior defensive linemen off the ball in the league. Atkins is an exceptional penetrator overall. His pass-rush skills jump off the tape, and he is already among the best interior situational pass-rushers in the league.
Williamson believes that because Atkins isn't among the largest of the NFL players at his position, he needs to prove that he can take a beating and keep on ticking if he's given more playing time, but if he can do that, he could solidify himself on the Bengals defensive line.
If he continues to impress -- and I expect he will -- Atkins should pair with Pat Sims to make for very solid starting defensive tackles. Maybe the most encouraging thing about Atkins is that he left college as a very young player and will be 23 this year.
Atkins could be one of the many reasons that the Bengals shy away from drafting a defensive lineman, like Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus, if they were available in the draft and go after a wide receiver, quarterback or defensive back with the No. 4 overall pick.