Relentlessness, ferocity, three-down player. These adjectives describe some of the best players in the NFL--both past and present. In his three short years as a professional, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins embodies these traits as a blossoming dominant force against the run and the pass. Though he doesn't have the prototypical size and didn't have the highest draft stock, Atkins proves that a player can overcome stereotypes to be a productive pro.
Even Bengals owner Mike Brown admits that Atkins isn't the picture of an ideal defensive tackle. In the first episode of "Hard Knocks", Brown was quoted as saying that "you wouldn't pick him (Atkins) out of a lineup as an NFL defensive tackle. But we think he's the best one there is". Teams and fans around the league are beginning to feel the same way about the former Georgia Bulldog.
Atkins wasn't highly-touted in the 2010 NFL Draft. At 6'1" and just over 300 pounds, Atkins wasn't the big, wide-bodied defensive tackle that most teams covet. Still, the Bengals tapped the ever deep well down in Athens Georgia, and took him in the fourth round. Atkins made the Pro Bowl last year and has 23 sacks in just three seasons, capped by him having 12.5 in 2012. Needless to say, the team got more than they bargained for with their unheralded mid-round pick.
Power, closing speed, a non-stop motor and using leverage. That's the formula for Atkins' success so far in the NFL. Take a look at a highlight video of Atkins, compiled by our own Brennen Warner. You'll see Atkins using these attributes to dominate interior linemen against the run and pass.
When a great NFL player hits the scene, it's natural for fans and media members to want to compare him to a past great. For those who were around and watched football in the 1990s, Atkins some striking comparisons to 2010 Hall of Fame defensive tackle, John Randle.
Like Atkins, Randle entered the league with tempered expectations. So low were those expectations, that Randle joined the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted college free agent after a failed tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The knock on Randle? He was thought to be too small as an NFL defensive tackle at 6'1" and a touch under 290 pounds. Sound familiar?
In his 14 years as a pro, Randle recorded 137.5 sacks as a defensive tackle--that's almost ten sacks per season on average. Though maybe not as powerful as Atkins, Randle used a non-stop motor, an excellent first step off of the snap and speed to terrorize opposing offenses. The main difference between Randle and Atkins? The Hall of Famer loved to talk noise to opposing lineman and was an utter maniac on the sidelines when mic'ed up. Atkins, not so much.
Take a look at Randle's highlight reel below. You'll see quite a few similarities between the two tackles. Again, it would appear that Randle may have been a bit quicker, while Atkins has a small edge in strength. Still, in draft status, physical stature, and style of play...there are striking resemblances.
We're not ready to say that Atkins is a future Hall of Fame defensive tackle, but he has had an excellent start to his career. If he stays healthy and remains productive, there's no telling how crazy of stats he'll rack up. After all, the under-appreciated Randle had double-digit sacks in nine of his 14 seasons. Insane numbers from the defensive tackle position. Kind of like 12.5 sacks in a season from the same position, no?