Most pivotal players in 2013

Geno Atkins among 10 players that will most affect their team's success

Updated: August 20, 2013, 1:24 PM ET
By Bill Polian | ESPN Insider

Ben RoethlisbergerJason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsGeno Atkins needs to play up to his 2012 level for the Bengals to accomplish their goals.

One player does not make a football team. But, depending on the guy, one player can make a heck of an impact. And in some cases, I believe the performance of a lone player can be the difference between title contention and missing the playoffs.

The players below comprise my most pivotal players for the 2013 season. Individually, they figure to have a disproportionate impact on their team's season due to their ability or the essential role they perform on the field. If they don't measure up, there's little chance their team will meet expectations.

A brief final note: With one exception, I excluded quarterbacks from this list because it's more or less a given that a down year from -- or an injury to -- a starting quarterback will derail a season. That said, here are my 10 most pivotal players for 2013, presented in alphabetical order.

Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals

Tony Dungy always believed that the three-technique had an outsized impact on a game because he's the guy closest to the ball at the start of every play. Therefore, the havoc he can create will disrupt the offense faster than any other defensive player. And Atkins is terrific at creating some chaos. The Bengals have good, not great, outside rushers -- it's Atkins who is the difference-maker. Since he's so unique and such a rare talent as an inside rusher, he gives lumbering guards fits.

The Bengals face heightened expectations in 2013, with some believing a deep postseason run is a possibility. For that to happen, Atkins must shine once again. If he falls off from his 2012 level of play or if he were to get hurt, Cincinnati wouldn't be as effective defense, especially on third down.

Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers