10 NFL defensive players primed for bounce-back seasons
BY SAM SPIEGELMAN
Each season there are NFL defensive players coming off injuries or down years. This year it seems as if there are a surplus of such names.
Many big names did not live up to expectations in 2013, but after changes made in the offseason - roster upgrades, coaching changes or simply getting healthy - they appear to be heading back to stardom. Here's a look at 10 players primed for bounce-back seasons:
1. Von Miller
When healthy, Miller is arguably the league's top edge rusher. But ACL injuries don't recover at Adrian Peterson-esque speed unless you're, well, Adrian Peterson.
If Miller is healthy for Week 1, he has a chance to be the featured pass-rusher on a loaded defense, one that can be aggressive because the Denver Broncos will likely have large enough leads to take more defensive risks.
2. DeMarcus Ware
Speaking of the Broncos, their newest pass-rushing threat will be the beneficiary of a healthy Miller opposite him. Ware, when healthy, has been one of the league's premier edge rushers, but last year he was not himself.
Ware averaged 15.5 sacks per season from 2008-2012, and last year's injury riddled season should be considered an aberration.
3. Darrelle Revis
Revis spent most of his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returning to full health coming off of knee surgery and displayed some rust early on. Revis improved throughout the year, and is now considered to be 100 percent.
Moving on to the New England Patriots, Revis has a chance to be the No. 1 guy in a Bill Belichick-designed unit. The Hoodie helped revive Aqib Talib's career, and Revis has an even higher ceiling.
4. Brian Cushing
Two major knee injuries in as many years have plagued Cushing's career, but with a star-studded defense being run by Romeo Crennel, Cushing has a chance to be thrust right back into the thick of things and play the role of defensive captain.
Cushing racked up 48 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a pick and a forced fumble in seven games last season. If he can stay healthy for 16 games, those numbers could balloon.
5. Clay Matthews
Even though Matthews missed only six games due to a thumb injury, he never truly returned back to form. And the Green Bay Packers' defense wasn't the same with Matthews far from full strength.
With the addition of Julius Peppers, there's some pressure being taken off Matthews, which should bode well for his sack numbers and his ability to wreak havoc in opposing backfields.
6. Jason Pierre-Paul
JPP is coming off back-to-back down years, and it's no coincidence the New York Giants' defense hasn't been as effective as a whole either.
Pierre-Paul hasn't been fully healthy for two seasons, and the Giants haven't had the best personnel fitted in around him either. If the Giants are going to revert to their old form, Pierre-Paul will need to be the defensive line's anchor.
7. Geno Atkins
Arguably the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL, Atkins' absence from the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive line had a domino effect throughout the entire unit.
Atkins racked up six sacks through nine games last season before a torn ACL forced him to the sidelines. If healthy, he can single-handedly change games.
8. Antonio Cromartie
Cromartie can be one of the league's best physical cornerbacks, but he does struggle when he's forced to take on No. 1-type receivers. Now that he's left New York and is with the Arizona Cardinals, he has the luxury of Patrick Peterson covering opposing offense's top threats.
9. Troy Polamalu
Polamalu wasn't the same difference-making safety we've come to know and love last season after coming off of multiple injuries. All indications are Polamalu is rounding back into form this offseason.
10. Dwight Freeney
The 33-year-old Freeney barely got an opportunity to rush the passer for the San Diego Chargers, suffering a torn quadriceps a month into the season. But Freeney returns to a revamped Bolts D in which he'll have plenty of opportunities to bounce back.
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