Over the final eight weeks of the 2012 season, the Cincinnati Bengals' defense ranked first in average points allowed (12.8 per game), second in sacks (31), second in turnovers (19) and third in average yards allowed (307.4). Unlike most defenses, the Bengals' pressure starts inside out with All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
While the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh and the Baltimore Ravens' Haloti Ngata have become household names, Atkins has vaulted past them as the most dominant defensive tackle in the NFL. He's about to get paid as such entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Bengals started dialogue with Atkins' agent in January, and the team is expected to prioritize an extension for its best player before the start of the 2013 season.
With a playing style compared to the Tasmanian Devil, Atkins dominates guards and centers with a unique combination of leverage, strength and quickness.
Atkins' team-leading 12.5 sacks were the most by a defensive tackle since the 2000 season, when La'Roi Glover and Warren Sapp each cleared 16.5.
Cosell went on to anoint Watt and Atkins the best non-skill position players in the league.
Stats can certainly illuminate, though. Analytics website Pro Football Focus credited Atkins with 78 quarterback disruptions (sacks + hits + hurries) last season, shattering the record for a defensive tackle since grading for every player commenced in 2008. The well-rounded Atkins also topped all interior linemen with 46 defensive "stops" in the run game, 16 more than second-place Vince Wilfork.
Defensive end Michael Johnson may have been slapped with the franchise tag, but it's Atkins who will end up being rewarded by the Bengals as one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL. We're anxious to see if he garners a well-deserved top-10 spot in NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2013.
Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.