SB Nation is taking a look at the NFL's most notable underachievers, the players who failed to live up to big expectations in 2013, and exploring whether or not they can turn things around in 2014.
Von Miller's 2013 campaign began with a six-game suspension for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy. Once Miller returned to the field, he registered five sacks and 34 tackles in nine games before tearing his ACL in the regular season's penultimate game against the Houston Texans. This while it seemed like everyone else on the Broncos was having a record year.
With a lengthy rehab for his knee coming to a conclusion this summer, Miller is expected to be ready for the bulk of the regular season. The former 2011 second-overall pick is set to be the bookend to the newly-acquired DeMarcus Ware.
How he got here
Miller came out of Texas A&M with plenty of fanfare, and early on it was more than justified. The former Aggies star came onto the scene with 11.5 sacks in his first year, earning him the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Miller also got the first of his two Pro Bowl berths and a second-team All-Pro nod.
In 2012, Miller enjoyed his best season so far, becoming a first-team All-Pro. With Denver riding high on the right arm of Peyton Manning, Miller had an under-the-radar year in which he notched 18.5 sacks and forced a career-high six fumbles, a product of modeling his game after deceased Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas, who forced an NFL-record 41 fumbles.
Unfortunately, things began to come apart during the offseason preceding the 2013 season. Miller reportedly tried to cheat testing for a banned substance, causing the aforementioned six-game suspension. He also had other off-field distractions come up during training camp and the regular season, including an arrest for failing to appear in court on traffic violations and later being late to another court appearance. Miller was productive with five sacks in nine games once reinstated before sustaining the first serious injury of his career with a torn ACL.
With the Broncos as one of the two favorites to emerge from the AFC (along with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots), plenty is riding on Miller's recovery and subsequent campaign. Last year, Denver ranked first in offense with over 457 yards per game and an average of 37.9 points.
However, the defense was not up to par throughout much of 2013. Miller absence certainly was a factor, leaving Shaun Phillips as the only legitimate pass-rushing threat. The defense ranked 19th in yards allowed and and 22nd in points given up at 24.9 per game.
For the Broncos to make another Super Bowl push, the defense must improve. While the acquisitions of T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and Ware will help, nothing will make a bigger difference than Miller returning to his 2012 form.
Can he bounce back in 2014?
Coming into his fourth season, Miller still has age on his side; he's just 25-years old. With today's medical advancements, there is a solid chance Miller returns from his knee injury better than ever, just as Adrian Peterson, Eric Berry and Tom Brady have.
The real question outside of his health is where his head is at. Miller has had struggles staying on the straight and narrow off the field, manifesting in a suspension. Should Miller come back healthy both mentally and in his knee, the talent is undeniable.
Considering Denver's expected offensive output, the Broncos will be leading throughout many games, allowing for ample pass-rushing opportunities. Miller would presumably have a huge impact for John Fox's group, causing all kinds of issues for opponents with his speed on the outside.
Despite his 2013, NFL great and former head coach Mike Singletary called Miller the best linebacker in football.
"First of all, (he's a) pass rusher," Singletary responded. "He is a playmaker. He is a guy that you put out there, and you have to account for him everywhere."
If Miller can once again fulfill those words, the Broncos and their supporters will be elated.