3T Geno Atkins, #97
Height: 6-1 3/8 Weight: 298 Speed: 4.82
Notes: Father, Gene Atkins, played 10 years in the NFL as a safety for the Saints and Dolphins (1987-96). Geno discovered he suffers from sickle cell trait as a freshman at the University of Georgia. Gained notoriety as a junior with the Bulldogs when he asked Hawaii QB Colt Brennan for his autograph during a Sugar Bowl press conference before proceeding to knock Brennan out of the game in the fourth quarter following a sack. Finished his college career with 120 tackles and 11 sacks in 23 starts and was named the Bulldogs’ Defensive MVP as a senior. Slid to the fourth round in the 2010 NFL draft (120th overall) amid concerns about his stamina and made an instant impact as a situational nickel rusher for the Bengals as a rookie, notching three sacks. Earned a starting job in his second season and led the team in sacks with 7½, earning a Pro Bowl nod after tying Oakland’s Tommy Kelly with the league lead in sacks from the inside. In eight starts in 2012, has racked up 27 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Positives: Extremely quick off the ball and ripping past blockers — anticipates the snap and has elite burst to beat guards one-on-one. Highly disruptive shooting gaps and disrupting the backfield. Very instinctive — reads hats and sniffs out the run. Plays with explosive power, good functional play strength and natural leverage, getting underneath blockers. Can dominate defending the run — consistently collapses the pocket and runs blockers back. Outstanding athlete with very good balance and agility. Consistently plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Modest and humble.
Negatives: Has short arms and small hands and can be stuck on blocks longer than he should — too easily stalemated if he does not win early. Lacks ideal bulk and is not a stout, dig-your-heels-in-the-dirt anchor capable of regularly withstanding the double-team. Duck-footed. Was diagnosed with sickle cell trait, and stamina can wear down as a result. Backside effort could stand to improve — does not run to the ball. Not a glass eater. Can add more variety to his pass-rush arsenal and still learn to explode out of his spin.
Summary: An explosive interior rusher who is leading the NFL in sacks from the DT position halfway through the season, Atkins is more productive than his stats show, moving the pocket and flushing a lot of production to the rest of his team. Has been one of the league’s most underrated performers since he entered the league, far outplaying his four-year rookie contract and is in line to become one of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive tackles because of the way he can affect the game from the inside. A difference-making, impact rusher with potential to become a rare perennial double-digit sack producer from the interior.