True to their coaching staff's M.O., the Bengals coaching staff made defensive tackle Geno Atkins bide his time as a rookie in 2010. While they were high on their fourth round selection, they made him learn patience while being placed behind other defensive tackles who had earned their spot in the rotation from previous years' production.
Though he played in all 16 games as a rookie, he didn't get a shot at significant playing time until the latter part of the 2010 campaign. He flashed brilliance early on and racked up three sacks, giving the team confidence in his abilities for the subsequent year. With the team going with the youth movement in 2011, Atkins was the starting defensive tackle along with Domata Peko. In his first year as a starter, Atkins racked up 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was a budding star along with a handful of other young Bengals players that helped to lead to their quick renaissance.
However, it was 2012 where Atkins became a household name. As a truly dominant player, Atkins had 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles on his way to earning his second Pro Bowl berth. Atkins' strengths aren't limited to being a pass-rushing defensive tackle though--he is rated by ProFootballFocus as one of the best run-stoppers as well. Though more NFL fans are familiar with Ndamukong Suh, Atkins has been the superior player over the past two seasons and has given Bengals fans hope that he'll have another dominant season in 2013.
WHY HE SHOULD BE HERE:
In three seasons, Atkins has as many quarterback sacks as defensive end Michael Johnson (23) in one less accrued season, and three more than Carlos Dunlap. And, if you want to compare Atkins to Suh, he has one more sack and five more forced fumbles accrued in the same amount of NFL seasons.
Though many would point to Suh, Haloti Ngata and/or Vince Wilfork, Atkins is the most dominant player at his position in the league. If the team can't reach a long-term agreement with him, he should be designated as the franchise player in 2014. In short, he is the key to the Bengals defense and they would not be able to do what they do best (rush the quarterback) without him. A true three-down player, this team would not have it's physical style of play without him. He's also incredibly durable, playing in 48 of 48 games as a pro.
WHY HE SHOULDN'T BE HERE:
Um...because he wears No.97? In all seriousness, Atkins would be the best player on most every other team that he would be on. The offensive skill position players always get the love and the player who bested him on this list is definitely deserving. Atkins is a victim of his draft position, as so many others get more recognized simply because they were drafted in an earlier round and/or play in a bigger market.
Since the Bengals defense has more contributors everywhere and is the collective strength of the team, it does start to beg the question if Atkins benefits from other surrounding talent. He likely does, but also makes everyone else around him better.
By now, you know who leapfrogged Atkins as the Bengals' No.1 player on our list. In actuality, Atkins and the other player to be named later could be labeled as "1A" and "1B". Though we're not banking on Atkins getting the amount of sacks that he had last year, we still see him as a guy who will sniff double digits in that column and will continue to be the key cog to their defense.