Bengals' hidden treasure: Defensive line

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
12:04
PM ET
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Cincinnati Bengals had the AFC North's best defensive line last season, and this group has the potential to be even better despite losing two key contributors. Carlos Dunlap is expected to be an every-down lineman and replace Frostee Rucker, who signed with the Cleveland Browns in free agency. Dunlap can become a dominant edge rusher if he stays healthy. It's easy to forget that he's only 23 and has yet to reach his ceiling.

The real "hidden treasure" on the Bengals' defensive line is tackle Geno Atkins. There was some concern last year when Cincinnati released Tank Johnson and moved Atkins into the starting lineup. He responded with eight sacks, which led all NFL interior linemen, and a Pro Bowl season. Two underrated players, defensive tackle Domata Peko and Robert Geathers, round out an impressive starting defensive front.

The line took a hit when it lost Jonathan Fanene to the New England Patriots in free agency. Fanene was a backup, but he was the lineman who had the best motor. The Bengals, though, have bulked up in terms of overall depth. In free agency, they signed two former first-round picks in ends Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey. In the draft, the team selected Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year, in the second round, and Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (who did 36 reps in the bench press) in the third round. This group could become the backbone of another tough Cincinnati defense.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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