NFL Nation reporters from the AFC North -- Jeremy Fowler, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley and Pat McManamon -- have reviewed the film and sorted through the analytics to determine the 2015 annual awards for the division. On Tuesday, we hand out the AFC North defensive player of the year.
Winner: Geno Atkins
Runner-up: Carlos Dunlap
Officially, the Baltimore Ravens had the AFC North's best-ranked defense in 2015.
Despite winning only five games, the Ravens allowed a division-low, 337.4 yards per game. The 12-win, division-champion Cincinnati Bengals weren't far behind, allowing a mere 3.4 yards per game more.
So it should come as little surprise then to see a Bengals defender declared ESPN NFL Nation's AFC North defensive player of the year. In fact, the winner and the runner-up both came from Cincinnati.
Atkins had a true renaissance year as he returned to dominating style of pass-rushing play that made him a Pro Bowler in 2012. Relentless in his pursuit and a consistent breaker of double-team blocking packages, he recorded 21 quarterback hurries (third among predominately interior NFL linemen) and 11 sacks. The 11 sacks tied with St. Louis' Aaron Donald and Carolina's Kawann Short for the most among the league's defensive tackles. Atkins was just 1.5 sacks shy of the career-high 12.5 that he had in 2012.
The numbers Atkins posted confirmed what most saw when they watched his pass rush this past season. He was a backfield mainstay, regularly harassing opposing quarterbacks. That was something he wasn't able to do quite as regularly in 2014, when he was still recovering from an ACL surgery that previous December. Any hesitation he had in his knee a year ago subsided this past year.
Atkins wasn't the only Bengals lineman who routinely hounded quarterbacks. The other three starting linemen all had 5.0 sacks or more, including Dunlap, who set an official single-season Bengals record with 13.5.