"It's always on my mind that there is someone out there trying to get better than me," Atkins, who is entering his fourth season, told the Dayton Daily News. "That's why I put in the extra work during the offseason. Not only that, I'm trying to be a leader on the team. The younger guys are looking up to me, and when they see me working hard that's going to trickle down to them."
People argue Atkins would be a household name if he played in Gotham, but he credits Cincy's home in the rough-and-tumble AFC North for his rapid development: "I think the talent (there) has made me a better player due to the physical nature of the division."
Atkins grew with every outing last season. He anchored a defense that went from allowing 27.3 points per game in its first eight contests to just 12.8 down the stretch. When we focused on Atkins in a December edition of ATL Film Room, it was his ability to generate inside pressure that stood out. His 12.5 sacks last season set a single-season franchise sack record for interior linemen.
ProFootballFocus.com rated Atkins above all other tackles in 2012 with an outstanding overall grade built off of high marks for getting to the passer and shutting down the run. He's a central reason the Bengals -- whether or not you believe in quarterback Andy Dalton -- are a candidate to own the AFC North in 2013.