Because of a variety of factors throughout the 2016 season, the Bengals' defense wasn't quite what it has been in recent seasons. After a sluggish start, mostly plagued by missed turnover opportunities and an inconsistent pass rush, the unit ended up having a strong finish to the season.
Some of the bigger names in the group had solid performances throughout the year, while other younger players stepped up in their own ways. Who gets your vote for the Bengals' 2016 defensive MVP? Cast your vote and sound off on your winner!
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins: The perennial Pro Bowl interior lineman had a quiet, but outstanding season. Atkins amassed nine sacks on the year, cementing another Pro Bowl berth, with 4.5 coming in the last four games of the year. He also finished with 21 total tackles and a fumble recovery, though he didn't force any in 2016.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap: The veteran defensive end had a breakout year in 2015, but his production dipped a little bit this season. Even so, Dunlap was Cincinnati's most effective weapon off of the edge, racking up eight sacks, 30 tackles, three forced fumbles and an absolutely ridiculous 15 passes defended. Although he didn't have the double-digit sack season from last year, Dunlap still had a very solid campaign in 2016.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict: Had the star-crossed linebacker played an entire season at the level he showed in the 11 games he played in, he would probably be a shoo-in for this award. Even with his missing of five games though, Burfict led the team in solo tackles with 73 and ranked second in total tackles with 101. He also adding two sacks and two interceptions. His intensity and football IQ remain key to the Bengals' defensive success.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick: In a contract year, Kirkpatrick arguably had the best year of his career. Though he had more big plays in his early years, Kirkpatrick tied a career-high of three interceptions in a nice bounce-back year following a lackluster 2015 campaign. Like many of the other Bengals' defensive players, Kirkpatrick played better as the season wore on and is one of the team's big targets in free agency.
Safety Shawn Williams: In his first year as a full-time starter, Williams was victimized by opposing offenses. However, he settled in and grabbed three interceptions--all of which were through Weeks 7 through 17. He finished fourth on the team in total tackles with 81, behind Karlos Dansby, Burfict and Vincent Rey and dispelled the notion of him being only a run-stuffing safety.
Safety George Iloka: Like Williams, Iloka had a lot to live up to in 2016 after signing a big offseason contract. Along with Williams and Kirkpatrick, Iloka tied for the team lead in interceptions with three. He may not have had the Pro Bowl campaign most expected, Iloka had a solid end to the season like many of his cohorts.