We're getting toward the end of our Bengals 2015 season awards, known as "The CJ's", and as it winds down, the selections get more and more difficult. While certain players may jump out as an obvious winner, many team's Pro Bowl players were on defense.
The resurgence of the defensive line was the story of the defense and, really, the entire team in 2015. They more than doubled their quarterback sack total in 2015, snagging 42 after garnering a league-low 20 in 2014 and a few players were largely responsible. Our contributors made their opinions known on the defensive MVP and now it's your turn to cast your vote and sound off on your winner!
Alex Healey: Vontaze Burfict. In the first six Burfict-less games of the season, the Bengals gave up 20-plus points four times. For the rest of the season, including the playoffs, the Bengals gave up 20-plus points twice. While he may not rank as high at his position as Geno Atkins or Carlos Dunlap, he is the leader of this defense. His attitude is needed among a group of guys who are mostly of the calm, cool, and collected ilk. Although that temperament can be extremely detrimental from time to time, I believe it is necessary. He does things that are objectively dirty (ankle twisting being the most egregious), but I'll take this guy on my team every day of the week.
Kyle Phelps: I have no doubt in my mind this award should go to Geno Atkins. What's the biggest difference between the Bengals finishing dead last in sacks last year and 10th in sacks this year? It's Atkins having a full offseason to prepare and get ready. He finished seventh among all defensive linemen in sacks this year, but he was tied with Aaron Donald for the most sacks by an interior defensive lineman (11.0). By comparison, Carlos Dunlap did have more sacks this season (13.5), but as a defensive end he's expected to and finished fourth at his position. The Bengals' defensive line clearly missed Atkins' dominant level of production last year, and it showed as they got back on track to become one of the better pass rushing teams in the NFL this year.
Scott Schulze: The game starts up front in the trenches, and the return of a healthy Geno Atkins helped push the Bengals' defense to their top ranking ever, as the second best scoring defense in the NFL. Atkins was a regular fixture in opponent's backfields during the 2015 season. His dominance commanded double teams, which allowed fellow linemen Dunlap and Johnson to have very good seasons.
Rebecca Toback: Geno Atkins returned to his pre-ACL tear form and made every player on the Bengals' defense better, just by him being on the field. While Carlos Dunlap had more sacks than Atkins, many of Dunlap's sacks were made possible because of the double and triple teams Atkins was facing.
Scott Bantel: Reggie Nelson and Adam Jones deserve consideration, but the return of a healthy Geno Atkins made every player on the defense better and his health is the main reason the Bengals more than doubled their sack total from 2014 from 20 to 42. No defensive lineman is more disruptive to an offense than Atkins.
Jason Marcum: I put Geno Atkins right behind Dalton for the Bengals MVP. Atkins was a force on the defensive side and really made the defensive unit elite for much of this past season.
Dadio McDuck: Carlos Dunlap.
Cody Tewmey: Carlos Dunlap.
Alberto Luque (AKA muertasdeatenas): Geno Atkins.