Recent news regarding the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2020 class potentially involving 20 inductees is great news for the Bengals, as Ken Anderson and Ken Riley’ chances of getting will never be higher if the proposal gets approved. The two have combined to wait 57 years to be enshrined and Anthony Munoz has been all alone in Canton representing the orange and black since 1998.
Anderson and Riley should eventually get in, (is one of them too much to ask for!?) but if the folks with the ballots in front of them disagree eternally, Cincinnati’s hopes of future enshrinements will likely rest in Geno Atkins and A.J. Green’s hands.
Regarded as two of the best players at their positions for the better part of the 2010s, Atkins and Green have been dominant for the vast majority of their careers. Unfortunately, their shared supremacy has not been enough for the Bengals to experience any degree of postseason success, and there’s still meat left on the bone for each of their careers.
This why Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus has Atkins and Green listed in the “on pace” category when looking at every team’s future Hall of Famers.
In if they retire today: N/A
Considered but not HOF-worthy as of now: N/A
Here’s what Linsey had to say about Atkins:
The Bengals don’t have any players that we deemed as Canton-worthy should their careers end today, but they have two players that are in the process of putting together truly impressive careers. Generational talents like J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald have overshadowed just how good Atkins has been at getting after the quarterback as an interior defender. His pass-rush grade since entering the league ranks third behind only those two greats at the position, and his 540 quarterback pressures are 50 more than any other interior defender.
PFF has always been in Atkins’ corner, as only a few other interior lineman display snap-per-span excellence at the rate that Atkins does. The grades have reflected the box score numbers, so there will be a convincing argument for Atkins once he hangs up his cleats. The defense around him hasn’t always been up to snuff, and if that’s a factor that elongates his wait, then the process should be further evaluated, not Atkins.
Atkins wasn’t the first “undersized” 3-technique to take the NFL by storm, but his ascendancy to stardom while not looking like the prototype paved the way for guys like Aaron Donald, Mike Daniels and Grady Jarrett to shine. It’s changed how we evaluate interior pass rushers for the better, and that should mean something.
Funnily enough, Atkins and Green share same minimalist personalities, and for Hall of Fame implications, this could go against Green. Naturally, wide receivers are more well-known than defensive tackles, but Green’s lack of a boisterous persona has oftentimes put him in the backseat to other pass-catchers that are of equal talent. But just like Atkins, you can’t talk about the receivers in time in which he played without mentioning Green.
In a similar fashion, A.J. Green doesn’t have the flash of someone like Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown, so he doesn’t generate the same sort of attention, but there are very few wide receivers who make a bigger impact than Green. His overall grade since entering the league in 2011 ranks tied for fifth among all wideouts. Over that time, he has been one of the premier deep threats in the NFL, recording 3,365 receiving yards on passes that targeted him 20 or more yards downfield (third among all wide receivers).
Green is a master of many things on the football field. He’s a magician coming off the line with his hands against press coverage. His hand-eye coordination is passable for a juggler (which he is) but insane even for a receiver. His feet are second-to-none near the sideline.
Despite all of that, the average fan probably wouldn’t have guessed how productive he was as a deep threat down the field.
Maybe if he had a better quarterback, people would’ve taken notice by now. Thus is the legend of Green: there’s always more than what meets the eye.
Without a sudden surge in playoff wins and potentially more, Atkins and Green are essentially forced down the tougher and longer path towards the Hall of Fame. They can’t afford to see their play fall off now, not while still in the final years of their primes. Staying dominant longer than their peers is the only way they can garner the respect they need from a community that seems to weigh team success far too high.
Luckily, betting against Atkins or Green is typically bad for business, so we’re not worried too much.