With seven picks each on the defensive side of the ball, Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer and New England Patriots chief-of-all-things-football Bill Belichick clearly entered the 2015 NFL Draft determined to shake up the their respective rosters on that side of the ball. No team in the NFL invested more picks on defense. But they weren't the only ones to put their share of defensive veterans on notice. Here is a look at seven NFL teams that helped themselves most on the defense in the 2015 draft:
1. Cleveland Browns
» Browns' 2015 draft class
A floundering run defense needed an immediate plug, and the Browns found a 340-pound one for the middle of the field in Washington nose guard Danny Shelton. He will pay immediate dividends on early downs, at a minimum. In the third round, Cleveland added two more for the defensive front in sack artist Nate Orchard of Utah and tackle Xavier Cooper of Washington State. Orchard could send this defensive class into the stratosphere if he can translate his knack for the big play to the Sunday league. It was strong safety Ibraheim Campbell of Northwestern in the fourth round, where he might have been a reach that early. Cleveland also got some legitimate late-round talent in cornerbacks Charles Gaines (sixth round), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (seventh round) and weakside linebacker Hayes Bullard of USC (seventh round).
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
» Steelers' 2015 draft class
With age catching up to certain areas of the Steelers' defense, a big injection of youth was needed. It started with pass rusher Bud Dupree, whom Steelers fans hope becomes the player Jarvis Jones was supposed to be, with the No. 22 overall pick. A significant need at cornerback was filled with Senquez Golson of Ole Miss in the second round and Ohio State's Doran Grant in the fourth. Don't be surprised if the small-but-aggressive Golson settles into, and thrives in, a nickelback role. Late in the draft, Pittsburgh added defensive lineman Leterrius Walton, a massive small-school prospect (6-5, 319) who could help anchor its interior front. Defensive end Anthony Chickillo of Miami and NCAA interception leader (14) Gerod Holliman of Louisville, a free safety, were nice late-round finds.
3. Minnesota Vikings
» Vikings' 2015 draft class
The Vikings added two rock-solid talents in the first two rounds with Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes and UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. About the only knock on Waynes' game is a holding habit, and as long as that doesn't translate into too many penalty flags, he'll be a major asset in the Minnesota secondary. In Kendricks, the Vikings got an instinctive inside linebacker who is a tackling machine and not easily fooled by play action and screens. While Waynes and Kendricks are more certain contributors, third-round pick Danielle Hunter of LSU is a wildcard who could take this defensive draft class from good to great. Hunter is a spectacular athlete whose lack of production at LSU was confounding. The Vikings also added defensive end B.J. Dubose and linebacker Edmond Robinson late in the draft.
4. New England Patriots
» Patriots' 2015 draft class
Like Cleveland, New England turned in an NFL-high seven draft cards for defensive players, but the impact wasn't quite the same as the Browns' in part because of the Patriots' late draft position. Texas defensive tackle Malcolm Brown was a high-value gift to fall to No. 32 overall, and his ability to disrupt the offensive backfield should make a quick difference in the Patriots' run defense. The choices of Jordan Richards (second round) and Geneo Grissom (third round) were thought to be reaches, but Belichick has earned the benefit of the doubt on draft day. Fourth-rounder Trey Flowers of Arkansas, a defensive end, figures to help New England in sub packages on third down at a minimum. Three late sleepers over the last two rounds: linebacker Matthew Wells, cornerback Darryl Robertson and linebacker Xzavier Dickson.
5. San Francisco 49ers
» 49ers' 2015 draft class
The 49ers only picked three defensive players, but they didn't waste any time doing it. Versatile Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead, Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt and Virginia outside linebacker Eli Harold represented the first two days of San Francisco's draft in the first, second and third rounds, respectively. A Samford coach recently told College Football 24/7 that Tartt will bring the ability to play multiple roles in various defensive packages for the 49ers. For the 49ers' defensive draft class to belong on this list a few years from now, none of these three can bust, but nobody can argue with Trent Baalke's commitment to that side of the ball. San Francisco was one of only three NFL teams to use its first three picks on defense. Still, that the club didn't draft an inside linebacker after the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland was curious at best.
6. Atlanta Falcons
» Falcons' 2015 draft class
Like the 49ers, the Falcons' defensive investment was long on quality at the front of the draft. Pass rusher Vic Beasley will be counted on heavily to pressure opposing quarterbacks for a defense in dire need of some heat off the edge. After amassing 33 career sacks at Clemson and stunning scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine with his measurables (4.53 speed), Beasley is primed for a big rookie year. Projected as a possible first-round pick, Atlanta found LSU cornerback Jalen Collins waiting in the second round and will likely pair him with Desmond Trufant for a nice young tandem on the outside. For Atlanta's defensive draft class to really make its way over the top, however, fifth-rounder Grady Jarrett must also deliver. If his stellar play as a Clemson defensive tackle is any indication, expect him to do so. Atlanta also added defensive back Akeem King in the final round.
7. Dallas Cowboys
» Cowboys' 2015 draft class
It could be argued that Byron Jones and Randy Gregory are the two most talented defensive rookies on one team. Jones' stock rose from a stunningly impressive combine enough to push him into the first round, while Gregory was a first-round talent whose history with marijuana caused him to slip all the way to No. 60 overall. Gregory can't falter on or off the field for Dallas' defensive class to really deliver, but if he even approaches his ceiling, he could be devastating to opposing offenses. Dallas filled out the class with Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson in the fourth round, Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell (fifth) and Wyoming linebacker Mark Nzeocha (seventh).