It is must-watch television when LeBron James is on a tear. It has gotten to the point where he has to have performances like that more often as the team around him hasn’t produced as much as in recent seasons.
This inspired Adam Schein of NFL.com to put together a list of NFL players who have to carry their teams or sides of the ball in a similar fashion.
The list includes obvious names like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers who are players who are literally keeping their teams from being garbage. Schein also included Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, which is hilarious on its own.
The Bengals were represented on the list with one of their most talented players though as well.
Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
Despite notching six Pro Bowl appearances and two first-team All-Pro nods since entering the league as a fourth-round pick in 2010, Atkins never gets enough credit for being a true game wrecker. Atkins has led the Bengals in sacks during each of the past two seasons. Remember, this guy’s a defensive tackle, toiling away in the muckiest areas of the line of scrimmage -- that kind of sack production is not normal. Not to mention, Atkins routinely blows up rushing lanes and racks up tackles as a premium run stuffer.
Rated the No. 2 interior defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus last season -- behind only Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald -- Atkins is an absolutely indispensable player on a defense that otherwise leaves much to be desired.
It is totally fair to point out how little love Atkins gets. To be fair though, we live in an era where after Aaron Donald, there are also guys like Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh who are also considered elite defensive tackles. It is hard to stick out against those guys as well.
Still, Atkins’ value to the Bengals defense can’t be overstated. He has 29 sacks over the last three seasons. The attention he gathers in the middle of the defense helps everything else work defensively. Last year, it was especially true as the linebacker position was a revolving door of players who would’ve been swallowed whole by the offensive line if he wasn’t up front.
I still think the comparison is a little over the top with all of that in mind. I don’t think the Bengals rely on him alone defensively. Heading into the 2018 season, the Bengals added Preston Brown on the defensive side of the ball to go along with Nick Vigil, who will be returning after being placed on IR last season.
Then last year, Carl Lawson and Carlos Dunlap combined for 16 sacks, so Atkins isn’t the sole source of pressure.
Lastly, the Bengals started to rotate Atkins more last season. While he still played a majority of the snaps he still got more rest than the seasons prior. Guys like Ryan Glasgow, Andrew Brown, Chris Baker and Andrew Billings will likely see plenty of time in the middle.
The Bengals will also likely kick Sam Hubbard, Jordan Willis or Michael Johnson inside during pass rushing situations.
Atkins is the Bengals’ most valuable defender, and they are obviously better with him on the field. However, this defense isn’t going to suddenly turn into a mess without him.