The 2012 NFL Draft has come and gone. While pre-draft conversation is usually dominated by the offensive side of the ball (especially the quarterback position), more than a few NFL squads focused their attention on improving defensively.
Here's a look at trio of NFL teams who best bettered their defenses in 2012. From a bottom-feeder, to a playoff contender with one of the Super Bowl participants from a season ago thrown in for good measure.
St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams suffered through a nightmarish 2-14 2011 season, due in no small part to a defense that ranked 22nd in the NFL and 31st against the run. The Rams traded back twice in the draft's first round in order to stockpile picks with which to address the myriad holes on the roster. Although once the team did get down to business, the defense was the focus early on.
The team bolstered the middle of that leaky run defense with the 14th overall pick, selecting 322-pound defensive tackle Michael Brockers of LSU, who will likely start from day one in the Gateway City. The team then followed that up by using two of their next four picks on a pair of talented but troubled cornerbacks, drafting North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins and Montana's Trumaine Johnson in the second and third round respectively.
Both players have a number of question marks surrounding them due to off-the-field issues. But if new head coach Jeff Fisher can get the youngsters to perform to their potential, they could make for an imposing trio combined with the newly acquired Cortland Finnegan in a revamped St. Louis secondary.
Overall Draft Grade: B
The Philadelphia Eagles were a preseason favorite to advance to the Super Bowl last year but fell well short of the goal, finishing at 8-8 and missing the playoffs altogether. A result due to a defense that while 8th in the league in yardage allowed, struggled with consistency and was susceptible up the middle.
The Eagles took steps before the draft even began to strengthen the middle of that defense by trading for Houston Texans inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. The team kept their focus on that side of the ball in the draft, using four of their first five picks on defense.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox will step into the starting lineup next to Cullen Jenkins. Cox so impressed the Eagles that they traded up to the 12th spot in the draft to select the former Mississippi State standout.
Reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks will immediately compete to start at weak side linebacker. Defensive end Vinny Curry of Marshall will probably be eased in as a rotational pass rusher behind Trent Cole and Jason Babin, in what should be a very formidable Philly pass rush.
Overall Draft Grade: B+
No team in the National Football League was more focused on the defensive side of the ball in the draft this season than the New England Patriots, who used six of their seven draft picks in an attempt to bolster a defense that ranked 31st in the National Football League a year ago.
The team moved up not once but twice in the first round to select players that will strengthen the Patriots front seven. Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones is expected to slide into the "elephant" pass rushing role made famous by Willie McGinest in New England, and All-American Dont'a Hightower's experience in the 3-4 defense from his time at Alabama will come in handy as the linebacker adjusts to New England's multiple fronts defense.
Safety Tavon Wilson certainly appeared to be a reach in the second round, but Bill Belichick is known to favor the sort of positional versatility that the Illinois defensive back offers. The team made up for the reach somewhat by getting something of a steal in the seventh-round selection of Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who saw his draft stock tumble amid poor workouts and a recent arrest after being named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year in 2011.
Overall Draft Grade: B-