Geno Atkins might be the worst player in the NFL…
…at talking about himself.
For example, if you ask Atkins if he agrees with the widely-held notion that he is currently the best defensive tackle in the NFL, here’s what you get:
“We still have some games left so I can’t agree yet,” Geno told me. “I think it’s an accumulation of the collective effort of my teammates.”
Not exactly a clip and save quote. Fortunately, there is no shortage of people who are willing to sing Atkins’ praises.
“Geno Atkins right now is playing as good as anybody in this league as a defensive tackle,” said Eagles coach Andy Reid.
“He’s definitely up there,” said defensive end Robert Geathers. “He’s so disruptive week in and week out and he’s consistent. That’s the big thing in this league. He’s good in the run game and the passing game so he’s definitely up there near the top.”
“I’ve never seen a defensive tackle take on double teams and make plays like he does,” said linebacker Manny Lawson. “When you look at Geno, he’s running all over the field. He’s around the ball on almost every tackle. What defensive tackle does that?”
“He’s so quick and explosive off the ball,” said Greg Cosell, Senior Producer for NFL Films. “There are times when you watch him where he looks like a running back playing defensive tackle. And he has also shown the ability to get underneath the pads of guards or centers and bull rush. There were a couple of plays that I can remember against Oakland a few weeks ago where he was just unbelievable. I think he’s the best D-tackle in the game right now.”
The data backs that up. Atkins leads all interior linemen in sacks with 10.5, four more than the next-best defensive tackle Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh. So what did it mean to Geno to become the first Bengals player since 2006 to have 10-or-more sacks in a season?
“It’s a good milestone,” said Atkins. “I’ve heard that normally defensive tackles don’t get double digits sacks so it feels pretty good to represent for the D-tackles.”
In truth, Atkins is putting up numbers that are highly unusual for his position. Consider these nuggets from ProFootballFocus.com analyst Sam Monson:
- Already comfortably highest graded DT we’ve had in a season at +65.0, previous best was Kyle Williams at +44.2 in 2010
- In addition to his 10.5 sacks, Geno’s 69 QB pressures are 21 more than the next best DT (Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy).
- Only Denver linebacker Von Miller and Miami defensive end Cameron Wake have more total pressures than Atkins. He’s third in the entire NFL and he’s a defensive tackle!
- He records a stop against the run on 10.6% of his run snaps, which trails only Chicago’s Henry Melton among DTs
- Leads all DTs in stops by 10
“Completely mind-bending numbers,” concluded Monson.
My broadcasting partner Dave Lapham doesn’t need stats to judge Atkins’ dominance. Lap says the body language of opposing players that have to block Geno tells you all that you need to know.
“I love watching the first pass set that the opposing guards have to take,” said Lapham. “They study tape all week and probably think, ‘Man, that guy looks pretty quick.’ But when he’s right in front of you when they snap the ball and you have to experience it first-hand…I love watching the guards after that first play because when they turn around and walk back to the huddle you can see their shoulders slump a little bit and they start shaking their heads. I like watching that reaction and it’s almost been every game without exception.”
“There was one game this year – Kansas City I believe – where we were on the field goal block team and the guard that was lined up against me said, ‘Damn, that sucker is strong.’” said Geathers with a laugh. “They’re definitely shocked when they play against him.”
“I just let ‘em know that it’s going to be a long day every time that they go up against me,” said Atkins.
Geno lasted until the fourth round of the 2010 draft because he was considered undersized at 6’1”, 293 pounds. But great quickness, a 550-pound bench press, and a relentless motor have made him one of the most disruptive forces in the NFL.
“His passion for the game and ‘want-to’ is incredible,” said Lawson. “He’s small, he’s quick, he’s explosive, and he has a big heart. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and like he has something to prove.”
“The other team has to come out of the huddle and go, ‘Where’s 97?’” said Lapham. “He’s a force on every snap.”
As for my conversation with Geno, he did say one thing that should make opposing lineman shudder: He thinks he can get even better.
“I just feel like each year I try to improve on the little things,” said Atkins. “I try to look back at what I did in the previous year and ask, ‘What can I do to get better?’”
Aside from talking about himself, there isn’t much.
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