Originally written on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 7/23/12

CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 08: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers breaks free from Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on November 8, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Steelers defeated the Bengals 27-21. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Jamison Hensley at ESPN has been counting down the top-25 players in the AFC North Division for the past couple of weeks. The list will likely end around Training Camp, as he's been roughly been doing one player writeup per day. Hensley has a good pulse on the players in the AFC North as he is the "four-letter network's" division blogger.

In case you've missed it, linebacker Thomas Howard kicked off Hensley's list at No.25, tight end Jermaine Gresham came in at No.23, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth landed at No.18, and wide receiver A.J. Green came in at No.10. Now, it's Geno Atkins' turn and he almost cracked the top-five of Hensley's list.

Atkins comes in at No.7 overall on the countdown. Of his 2011 performance and 2012 outlook, Hensley writes:

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.

While it may surprise some that Hensley gives this much credit to Atkins, his assessment of Atkins outplaying Ngata last year is spot on. Ngata gets a boatload of media love because of his team's success (particularly on defense), as well as a handful of Pro Bowl berths to stand on. But, Atkins is coming off of a Pro Bowl berth of his own after just his second NFL season--his first as a regular starter. While he may be a bit overshadowed by players like Ngata and Suh, he's still being mentioned in the same sentence. If Atkins puts up another stellar season in 2012 like we expect him to, he won't be overlooked any longer.

This ranking, along with Gresham's at No.23, really point to that 2010 draft class as a special one. Gresham was the team's first round pick that year, while Atkins was their fourth-rounder. Sandwiched between those two are guys like defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who appears to be knocking on the door to stardom himself, as well as wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Not a bad haul that year.

We don't foresee any other Bengals coming in on Hensley's list unless he has some huge secret crush on Andy Dalton. Still five Bengals on a top-25 list seems pretty fair.


Check out other great articles at 49erslines.com.

var switchTo5x=true; stLight.options({publisher:''});
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Marcus Smart eager to show full skill set with injury behind him

Geno Smith: Brandon Marshall is 'a quarterback's best friend'

Report: NFL executive questions hype around Sam Bradford

Raiders coaching staff excited about running backs

Braves reportedly aren’t keen on trading Cameron Maybin


Report: Jason Pierre-Paul has burns, possible nerve damage

Rory McIlroy suffered injury in soccer game with friends

Jason Kidd to be named general manager of Bucks

USWNT romps Japan 5-2 to win third Women's World Cup title

Report: JPP 'severely injured' hand in fireworks mishap

Blatter: European politicians helped Qatar land World Cup

How Matt Ryan became “Matty Ice”

The long road of an NBA second-round pick

Jameis Winston visits Miami teen in hospital with condition

2015 MLB first-half all-surprise team

World Cup Final smashes ratings records

Tsunami survivor fulfills dream by signing with Sporting Lisbon

Andre Johnson reconnects with Chuck Pagano by joining Colts

Lou Williams bolsters Lakers backcourt, but trouble remains

MLB teams who will continue to disappoint in the second half

2015 All-Star starters announced, featuring four Royals

WATCH: Jake Marisnick makes fantastic running catch

WATCH: Carlos Gomez leaves gum, note for Billy Hamilton

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

2015 All-Star starters announced

JPP injured in fireworks mishap?

Odell Beckham doesn't want to be known for 'the catch'

Russell Wilson 'would definitely consider' playing for Mariners

Solo, Rapinoe among USWNT stars up for World Cup awards

LBS on Sports Jeopardy! Here's how how it went

College football's 35 most patriotic helmets

A brief history of non-star All-Stars

With Love retained, the Cavs can take care of LeBron

Grading the deal: Davis commits to Pelicans

Obama Administration: Change name if Redskins move to D.C.

Deciding what the All-Star Game means

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.