Defensive tackle Geno Atkins was the best player on Paul Guenther’s Cincinnati Bengals defense. Guenther must find his own Atkins with the Oakland Raiders.
Paul Guenther was able to establish himself as a sound defensive mind on the Cincinnati Bengals as their defensive coordinator. While the Bengals failed to reach the AFC playoffs the last two years, Guenther did have one of the best defensive tackles in football leading his defense in the undersized defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
Atkins is a six-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his eight NFL seasons out of the University of Georgia. Though a good SEC player in his own right for Mark Richt, Atkins was only a fourth-round pick by the Bengals in the 2010 NFL Draft. One could argue that Guenther and former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer maximized Atkins’ talent and has him on track to be in Canton one day.
Of course, Guenther leaves behind his best defensive player in Atkins in Cincinnati after he joined Jon Gruden’s 2018 Oakland Raiders staff as defensive coordinator. Recreating his own Silver and Black version won’t be easy, but is paramount for the Raiders’ defensive turnaround. Does anybody on the Oakland roster fit that mold? Would the Raiders have to draft their own version of Atkins?
The good news is Atkins was a former fourth-round pick, so the Raiders don’t have to overspend or overdraft for a guy if he’s not currently on the 53-man roster. Keep in mind that Atkins is only 6-foot-1, 286 pounds. That’s not overly imposing for a tradition defensive tackle. Then again, Atkins uses leverage, speed and power to generate pressure in the middle of the defense. So who on the Raiders roster best fits that description?
To-be free agent Justin Ellis is too large at 6-foot-2, 334 pounds to have Atkins’ quickness. Perhaps the two best fits for that role from the 2017 Raiders would be to-be free agent Denico Autry and former third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes.
Autry showed in 2017 that he can generate pressure up the middle with 5.0 quarterback sacks. At 6-foot-5, 273 pounds, Autry has the frame to be like Atkins in terms of speed. However, he is four inches taller than Atkins, which could create leverage problems. Look for the Raiders to prioritize bringing him back as a free agent, as there is so much untapped potential still inside of Autry.
Vanderdoes did not have a great rookie year. Though he played a bunch, he struggled at generating pressure, did not record a sack and got hurt at the end of the year. That being said, he is relentless in his pursuit of the passer. He was this way during his days in the Pac-12 starring for the UCLA Bruins. At 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, Vanderdoes has a workable frame to be Oakland’s version of Atkins potentially.
Since this is more of a developmental role than anything else, either Oakland needs to find this guy on their roster or target him in the 2018 NFL Draft. Two players come to mind that could come up big on the Raiders defensive line. That would be Maurice Hurst of the Michigan Wolverines and Andrew Brown of the Virginia Cavaliers.
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Hurst is a lock to go in the first-round. At 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, Hurst is the ideal frame of an Atkins prototype. In four years with the Wolverines, he had 32.0 tackles for a loss of yardage and 13.5 quarterback sacks. While many in Raider Nation are clamoring for guys like Roquan Smith, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Saquon Barkley at No. 10, why would Oakland consider a guy like Hurst with that selection?
Brown is not coming off the board anywhere close to as early as Hurst. However, he was a blue-chip prospect coming out of high school, strangely signing with ACC bottom-feeder Virginia. Brown and safety Quin Blanding were key in helping the Hoos turn their program around under head coach Bronco Mendenhall in 2017.
In four years at Charlottesville, Brown had 26.5 tackles for a loss of yardage and 10.5 quarterback sacks. Brown is 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, but could work in that Atkins defensive tackle role in Guenther’s defense. While Hurst would be an ideal fit, Brown could be in play as a third or fourth-round selection.