It’s no secret Geno Atkins is among the best defensive linemen in football.
Now entering his eighth year in the pros, Atkins is still playing at a level that few in the league can match. The 6’1”, 300-pound defensive tackle started all 16 games in 2016 and finished with 32 total tackles and nine sacks.
That only begins to tell the story of Atkins, who is frequently in opposing backfields disrupting and blowing up plays, which helped him rank sixth among interior defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus (which accounts for 4-3 and 3-4 defensive tackles). His nine sacks were the most by any defensive tackle in the league in 2016.
That’s why it’s no surprise to see Atkins ranked among Pro Football Focus’ top 50 players for the 2017 season. He came in at No. 43 on the list.
43. Geno Atkins, DI, Cincinnati Bengals
Since injuring his knee, Atkins has still never quite hit the heights we saw from him back in 2012, where he was effectively Aaron Donald before Aaron Donald was on the scene, but he has come close to approaching that play again. Over the past two years, Atkins has 25 sacks and 164 total pressures to his name and remains one of the league’s most consistent interior pass-rushers.
Atkins’ 2016 season wasn’t much different from his 2015 season, where he started in all 16 games while recording 11 sacks, 42 total tackles and a forced fumble. That helped him earn All-Pro recognition and a spot in the 2016 Pro Bowl. Atkins missed out on the All-Pro team this past season but did earn a spot in the 2017 Pro Bowl.
Since coming into the NFL as a fourth-round pick out of Georgia in 2010, Atkins has made five Pro Bowls, earned two First-Team All-Pro honors and one Second-Team All-Pro spot. During that span, Atkins has accounted for 52 sacks and eight forced fumbles across 105 games.
For comparison, Ndamukong Suh, who is ranked 32nd on this list, has 47 sacks and two forced fumbles across 110 games during that span. You could make a good argument for Atkins being the better player over Suh, who was the second-overall pick in that draft.
Of note, Atkins came in as the 68th best player on the NFL Network Top 100 players show, which is a ranking selected by the players. That ranking seemed rather low, and while this one does, too, 43rd is far better than 68th. Additionally, PFF’s rankings are based on their data and analysis, as opposed to the NFL Network’s ranking, which is partially a popularity contest.
Atkins is just 29-years-old and signed through the 2018 season. As long as he's healthy, there's no reason to doubt he'll keep playing at a high level. For the meantime, that’s the key to the Bengals’ defense being the best it can possibly be, and the defense has been elite for much of Atkins’ tenure.