AFC North Top 25: Seventh-ranked player

The AFC North blog is continuing its series on the top 25 players in the division with No. 7:


Bengals defensive tackle

Why Atkins is ranked 7th: Remember when there was some concern last year when Cincinnati released Tank Johnson and moved Atkins into the starting lineup? Well, not anymore. Atkins responded with eight sacks, which led all NFL interior linemen, and a Pro Bowl season. He was the best defensive tackle in the division, even outplaying banged-up Haloti Ngata.

Atkins is up there with the Lions' Ndamukong Suh as the league's best interior defensive linemen under the age of 26. Atkins is only 24 and continues to get better. But unlike Suh and Ngata, many fans outside the AFC North aren't familiar with Atkins' name. Perhaps after another stellar season, Atkins will get more national attention.