Once again in 2012, the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive line was the strength of the team. Not only did they lead the Bengals run defense to a top-15 ranking, but they paved the road to 51 sacks, earning 42 of them, and led the team to the No. 2 overall ranking, behind the Broncos and Rams, who tied at 52 sacks each. While the linebackers and the secondary had their ups and downs, once again, the defensive line set the tone for a defense that led the team to the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Atkins and Johnson led the line, each having the best season of their careers. In his third year in the league, Atkins led the Bengals in sacks with 12.5 and earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 85.4 and has been widely considered the best overall interior defensive lineman in the NFL. Johnson was right behind him in sacks, with 11.5, and earned a 12.0 grade, according to PFF. Gilberry, who was signed as a free agent in September, was third on the team in sacks with 6.5 while Dunlap was fourth with six.
Domata Peko played the majority of the teams stats alongside Atkins, but earned -6.4 grade, per PFF, and while Geathers started the majority of the season's games at defensive end over Dunlap, his grade was -13.3. Pat Sims was injured throughout the majority of the season and only played a few games, but made a difference in the run game. Rookies Still and Thompson didn't get a ton of playing time and free agent signee Anderson got even less.
Free Agency/NFL Draft: The Bengals are obviously looking to re-sign Johnson to a long-term deal and they'll likely want to lock up Gilberry for depth at defensive end as well. They may look to re-sign Geathers as well, but only if they can get him for fairly cheap. They're unlikely to re-sign him if he wants a large contract. When it comes to the interior of the line, re-signing Sims would be good for the team's run defense. Keeping depth on the line by re-signing their own players will be extremely important and they could even look to bring in a free agent or two to help keep the line deep.
When it comes to the draft, the Bengals have never shied away from selecting defensive linemen in the first few rounds, however, with Still and Thompson likely to get more time on the field in 2013 they may look to fill other holes in the roster.