The Bengals haven't always been well represented on lists of the top players in the league. However, with the success they've had in the draft and on the field they have gotten quite a bit more exposure in the national spotlight. Pro Football Focus recently came out with their top-100 players of 2012 and there are three Bengals on it, but that's not the big news. The big news is one of those three is in the top five.
No. 99: FS Reggie Nelson
Jaguars fans will be disappointed to see Nelson here after he failed to live up to his drafting in Jacksonville. Since moving to Cincinnati he's really blossomed into a fine safety and 2012 was a great example of his growth. His work in coverage was what saw him make this list, finishing fourth overall in our safety rankings after allowing just 231 yards into his coverage all season while having the flexibility to line up deep or in the box, earning just two negative grades all year.
Best Performance: Wild Card Round at Houston, +2.5
Key Stat: Spent 34.1 percent of his snaps lined up in the box. Nelson was more than just a deep safety.
The Bengals traded for Nelson in 2010 and from that point on he has been a solid force at free safety. Luckily, the Bengals were able to retain Nelson heading into the 2012 season and keep him locked up through the 2015 season, signing him to a four-year, $18 million contract.
While the team still needs a strong safety, which they may have now in Shawn Williams, Nelson has done a good job in the Bengals secondary.
No. 41: WR A.J. Green
The favorite target of Andy Dalton built on a strong debut season to firmly establish himself as one of the league's best receivers. With 11 touchdowns and 1,350 yards, Green overcame a lack of support around him to match his peers in terms of output. Would have finished higher but for teams finding ways to slow him down in the second half of the season.
Best Performance: Week 3 at Washington, +4.3
Key Stat: His 474 yards on passes that went over 20 yards in the air were the fifth-most of any receiver.
Green has been amazing in his two years in the league and there's no question that without him, Andy Dalton wouldn't have put up some of the stats he has and the Bengals wouldn't have been to the playoffs two years in a row. Green may be sitting at No. 41 now, but he's only going to move up on the list.
No. 3: DT Geno Atkins
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.
Best Performance: Week 4 at Jacksonville, +9.7
Key Stat: His 78 combined sacks, hits and hurries were 20 more than the next best defensive tackle.
Atkins is a beast at defensive tackle and has become one of the biggest draft steals over the last few years. He not only has the ability to completely overpower almost every interior lineman he faces, but he is quicker than them too. He can go around them or straight through them when it comes to rushing the passer. He also has the strength and quickness to bring down running backs in the backfield. The Bengals' defensive line is the strength of the team and Atkins is the face of that line. He deserves a top-three spot on this list.