Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is no longer one of the NFL's hidden gems. Atkins has made a clear case for himself as the best all-around defensive tackle in the league. Fans, pundits, players and coaches are all very familiar with his name by now.
To give a glimpse as to exactly how dominant Atkins was in 2012, he was given an 80-overall proficiency rating by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). To put that into perspective, the next-highest rated defensive tackle was Gerald McCoy with a 31.7.
Atkins recorded a total of 12.5 sacks this past season. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was the cause for 16. The next-closest defensive tackle was Ndamukong Suh with nine.
Not only is Atkins the most dominant pass-rushing defensive tackle in the league, but he is equally as fierce against the run.
However, those are just numbers. Seeing Atkins in action is a whole different story.
Although he is a force against both the run and the pass, breaking down the way Atkins gets to the quarterback can send chills down an offensive lineman's spine.
Atkins is one of the most versatile pass-rushers in today's NFL. He routinely beats the interior of an offensive line with a perfect blend of power and speed.
Leverage is yet another key asset for Atkins—he was originally thought to be too small for the NFL at 6'1" and 300 pounds. However, that size mixed with his strength and athleticism makes him one of the most difficult pass-rushers to block.
Let's take a look at two plays from Week 1 of 2012 on Monday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals may have lost the game, but quarterback Joe Flacco became instantly acquainted with this defensive tackle.
The two sacks Atkins recorded in that game are perfect contrasting examples of Atkins' versatility—his combination of power and speed.
This is only the fourth defensive play of Atkins' season. He is lined up wide on the right side of the defensive line. This is one of the many looks of a zone blitz from defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Atkins would appear likely to rush toward the left tackle to free up the outside pass-rushers; however, this play is drawn up quite differently.
As the right defensive end in a 3-4 base defense, Atkins is set to use his athleticism to run a stunt around defensive tackle Domata Peko and blitz the A-gap. This means he will attempt to get a full head of steam and take on center Matt Birk.
Atkins runs his stunt quickly and reaches Birk right on the 24-yard line as Flacco gets to the top of his drop. Birk is a larger center and stands at 6'4"—three inches taller than Atkins. Using his size and power to his advantage, Atkins begins to drive Birk backward toward his quarterback.
In a matter of a split second, Atkins drives Birk back a total of four yards and runs right into Flacco, who does not have enough time to get through his progressions. The amount of power it would take to move Birk backward so quickly, as Atkins did, is frightening. Flacco is taken down for a big sack on third down.
Later in the same game, Atkins is at it once again. This time, he is lined up on the left side in the 5-technique (between the guard and tackle) in a base 3-4 defense. His role in this play will be a no-nonsense straight rush to the quarterback.
Right off the snap, Atkins shows a tremendous amount of burst. The black line indicates how quickly the players have released from their three-point stance and pushed toward the offensive line. This is a strong indicator of Atkins' quickness compared to defensive tackle Devon Still (to Atkins' right).
Atkins was able to get off the line with such a great amount of speed that guard Bobbie Williams simply could not get into position fast enough. Notice how Williams is almost completely spun around, which allows Atkins to simply push off of the guard on his way toward the quarterback.
This play does not have any time to develop as Atkins gets to Flacco almost instantly—all Williams can do is stand and watch. There may not be another defensive tackle in the league who has the ability to get off the snap as quickly as Atkins.
Atkins has now amassed 23 sacks over his first three years in the league. He only seems to be improving over time as well. Could it be that this 25-year-old, two-time Pro Bowl selection has only begun to scratch the surface of his talent?
That is a possibility.
One thing is for certain—by now, every opposing NFL quarterback is well aware of this multi-talented defensive tackle.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.