In a draft that saw Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy both selected in the top three picks, and 12 defensive tackles selected in the first 83 picks, one may have thought there wouldn’t be much left by the time the fourth round rolled around. Not much was expected out of the 120th overall pick from 2010 who was considered to be too small to hold up on the defensive line as anything more than a rotational backup.
Geno Atkins apparently didn’t care what the draft “experts” had to say. All he has done since being drafted is compile more sacks than every defensive tackle from the 2010 NFL draft, more sacks than each of the the eight defensive linemen selected in the first round, and is only second to teammate Carlos Dunlap for most sacks out of that entire draft class.
It’s hard not to root for a player who was overlooked for being “too short”, and who has dominated despite playing with sickle cell trait, and has sacked a Steelers’ quarterback seven times in his last 10 games against Pittsburgh. He has fully recovered from an injury which cut short his 2013 season, and had 11.0 sacks in 17 games last season (including playoffs), which is pretty incredible for an interior defensive lineman who is constantly double-teamed and game planned against.
Last season, Atkins played in his fourth Pro Bowl, setting a record for a Bengals’ defensive lineman, and moving him to second for all Bengals’ defensive players, behind only Lemar Parrish’s six Pro-Bowl appearances.
Experience: 7th season
Weight: 300 lbs
Combine: 4.75 40-yard dash, 34 reps at 225 lbs, 33" vertical, 9'9" broad jump, 4.43 20-yard shuttle, 7.33 3-cone drill
Why he might improve in 2016
Asking how atkins will improve in 2016 is like asking how you can improve a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It’s already a perfect marriage of chocolate and peanut butter - how do you top that? Somehow, someway, they will probably find a way to top it, but until then, it seems impossible. Similarly, how do you improve when you are already the game’s premier three-technique defensive tackle with two First Team All-Pro selections in your last two healthy seasons, compiling 23.5 sacks in those two seasons?
Some people will say that nothing is perfect, this side of heaven - so anything could technically be improved. And apparently Atkins falls into that category. Recently Bengals’ defensive coordinator Paul Guenther told reporters that Atkins was quicker and pursuing the ball better than previously, and he added, “For a guy you think can’t get any better, he has”.
Why he might regress in 2016
When he is healthy, Geno Atkins is an unstoppable force, and one of the best, if not the best, three-technique defensive tackles in the league today. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2011, the only thing that has slowed him down was an ACL injury he suffered against the Miami Dolphins on Halloween, three years ago. The injury cut short his 2013 season, and took away some of his dominance in 2014. It was able to do what offensive linemen have struggled to do in six NFL seasons - slow down Atkins. As far as we can tell, there’s no reason to think Atkins will regress in 2016.