It's been a great week for Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle, Geno Atkins. Since being named a starter for the AFC Pro Bowl squad and earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his two-sack performance against the Steelers, the hype machine for the third-year lineman is at an all-time high. And rightfully so, given the fact that he currently leads all defensive tackles in sacks and is on the precipice of eclipsing the Bengals franchise record (official) in the category.
However, there's a broader picture to paint here. Since entering the league in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Atkins has amassed 23 sacks. In case you didn't know, that is the highest amount for any interior defensive lineman in that span. You also have to remember that Atkins wasn't a full-time starter in his rookie year, splitting time with a cast of characters.
Let's also not forget that Atkins is very stout against the run, and the team's defense finished No.7 overall in 2011 and currently sit at No.6. Not coincidentally, those two seasons coincide with Atkins' tenure as a starter for the Bengals. And, as if that wasn't enough, Atkins makes every one of his line mates better. He opens up opportunities for other rushers, as evidenced by the quality years that Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry are currently having. He is the true centerpiece of the team's defense.
I want to reiterate that Atkins was a fourth round draft pick (um...steal?!). Draft pundits thought he was too small to be a dominant player at the position, though most agreed that he had a great motor. Atkins has mastered the art of using leverage and his low center of gravity to dominate at the line of scrimmage. The man he is most compared to lately, Ndamukong Suh, was picked 118 spots ahead of Atkins in the 2010 Draft, yet Atkins has two more sacks than Suh so far.
In case you don't believe me, have a look here and see his dominance for yourself.