When it comes to defensive tackles and the Cincinnati Bengals, Tim Krumrie is usually the first name that immediately comes to mind. However, another one-time under-appreciated interior lineman in the draft has since leapfrogged Krumrie to become one of the best all-around defensive linemen the team has ever drafted.
Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson did the courtesy of crunching some numbers for some recent great defensive tackles and Atkins is in good company. As in, Hall of Fame defensive tackle, John Randle.
Atkins is now averaging .516 sacks per game and pulled away from another of his 2010 draft mates, Gerald McCoy (.425) and that percentage is better than anybody but all but one in the top five of all-time leading sackers from the inside position at tackle or nose tackle. The only one better is Randle’s .628 that he racked up in 219 games while accumulating 137.5 sacks in a career that ended 15 seasons ago.
In today’s NFL, Atkins is on the short list of the best interior defensive linemen with Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, Ndamukong Suh and McCoy as the best in the league. But, as it is with Randle and so many others on the list of all-time greats at defensive tackle, longevity is key.
Randle played 14 years for two teams in an effort to get to 137.5 career sacks. Atkins is in his eighth year, and at his current pace of around 7.5 sacks per season (or, .516 per game as Hobson mentioned), he would finish with 105 career sacks in the same span.
If Atkins did finish with that many sacks, it would place him second in the category all-time for defensive tackles. If he were to garner those 105 career sacks, it would eclipse another Hall of Fame player at his position in Warren Sapp, who was also viewed as the best at his position in his generation.
In this day and age, advanced metrics also play a part in the voting for All-Pro, Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame nominations. Pro Football Focus has become a standard for data when showing player productivity and they often have Atkins as one of their top producers.
For instance, with his two-sack performance on Thursday night against the Texans, Atkins made PFF’s Week 2 “Team of the Week”. In fact, his 94.8 score by the data gurus was the best of the entire week by anybody at any position.
However, if you’re looking for Atkins to be garrulous and talk about his success, as Randle and Sapp were, it isn’t happening. The All-Pro tackle has all but shunned the media throughout his career, but those within the walls of Paul Brown Stadium can’t give enough accolades.
“He’s been very dominant,” said Carlos Dunlap, again via Hobson at Bengals.com. “Especially for him to be able to do it and get one early in these games that’s helping us out a lot.
“I think this is his normal ‘Geno dominant’. He’s been dominating since he’s been in the league I don’t want to say its any better. But if you need me to so he gets the double teams and chips that would be cool.”
And, even though he doesn’t say much, Atkins is still a leader by example. Just ask Marvin Lewis, who was responsible for drafting him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
“Geno has done a great job for us as a leader and as a player within the defense,” Lewis said. “As I said early in the season — starting out, we have to lean on those guys. We have to lean on those young guys that came in here in 2010, ’11. ’12, and they have to be the catalysts for us all the time.”
In the path to the Hall of Fame, consistent production is key. Even though Atkins is approaching his 30s, he’s off to one of the best starts of his pro career with three sacks in two games.
As of now, both he and A.J. Green seem to be clear front-runners as Bengals players to join Anthony Munoz as the only true players enshrined in Canton while donning the orange and black.