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Bengals' DT Geno Atkins among NFL's most improved players in 2015

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We've seen Geno Atkins play at an All-Pro level before but 2015 was more of a comeback season for the Bengals defensive tackle, and that's saying a lot. His ACL tear in 2013 simply had him playing like a shell of himself in 2014.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

2014 was a season to forget for Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

For the most part, Atkins wasn't making a big impact and Paul Guenther went as far to call him, "just a guy out there" for a Cincinnati defense that was up and down most of the year and wasn't the kind of dominating unit we'd become accustomed to seeing. He would finish the season with just three sacks, tying his career low from his rookie season.

In 2014, Atkins played in all 16 games following an ACL tear in October of 2013 and finished with just 34 total tackles, his lowest rate while playing in all 16 games since his rookie year. Needless to say, it just wasn't a good season for Atkins, but that changed in a big way in 2015.

That's why Atkins made Sam Monson's list of the 10-most improved players:

In 2012, Atkins was the best defensive tackle in football. He was the standout from his draft class, a class in which the debate was over Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh at the top and Atkins was a relative afterthought. Injury robbed him of his 2013 and the following season he was a shadow of his former self. This season, however, Atkins led all defensive tackles in total pressures with 82, and trailed only Aaron Donald in PFF rating among players who didn't miss time with a score of 93.0.

In 2015, Atkins started in all 16 games while notching 11 sacks--the second highest single-season total in his career. He also had 42 total tackles and a forced fumble while being a big reason why the Bengals ranked No. 2 in scoring defense and fifth in opponent passer rating (78.9).

Perhaps the biggest indicator of Atkins' improved play was the number of sacks his fellow defenders had. In 2014, Domata Peko, Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry combined for 10.5 sacks. In 2015, that number jumped to 20.5 as teams were forced to double-team Atkins far more often, making it easier for the rest of the line to get the sack. The Bengals also went from being dead last in the NFL with just 20 sacks in 2014 to having the ninth-most in 2015 with 42.

All of this helped Atkins earn All-Pro honors and a spot in the 2016 Pro Bowl. It's also helped keep the future of this Bengals franchise very bright for the foreseeable future, as Atkins is just 27-years-old and signed through the 2018 season.

As long as Atkins is healthy, there's no reason to think he won't keep playing at this high of a level, which means the Bengals' defense should continue to be a force to be reckoned with.