Soon to be stars: Geno Atkins

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at AFC North players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

Carlos Dunlap is the more likely candidate of these two young impressive defensive linemen to truly become a star for Cincinnati, but Geno Atkins is less well-known and deserves to be discussed thoroughly.

This is one of the quickest interior defensive linemen off the ball in the league. Atkins is an exceptional penetrator overall. His pass-rush skills jump off the tape, and he is already among the best interior situational pass-rushers in the league.

The next step that Cincinnati needs from Atkins is improvement in his run defense, although he isn’t terrible in this regard now. Atkins isn’t the biggest player for the position and needs to show that he can hold up to the pounding when given additional snaps. If he continues to impress -- and I expect he will -- Atkins should pair with Pat Sims to make for very solid starting defensive tackles. Maybe the most encouraging thing about Atkins is that he left college as a very young player and will be 23 this year.

Many have projected Cincinnati to take a defensive linemen with the fourth overall selection, but with the emergence of Atkins to pair with Sims and outside edge players Dunlap and Michael Johnson, it might make more sense to draft a quarterback with that pick or someone like Georgia’s A.J. Green or LSU’s Patrick Peterson -- especially if Johnathan Joseph departs in free agency.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.