1. Cato June Linebacker
June was a star for the Super Bowl champion Colts and might be the best addition to the defense. He's just 27 and coming off a great season: 142 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack. He will start on the strongside, replacing Ryan Nece, and is a sideline-to-sideline tackler who excels in pass coverage. He allows the Bucs to upgrade their speed, and teaming with Derrick Brooks and Barrett Ruud gives them more playmaking ability among the linebackers. Usually, the Bucs' strongside linebacker doesn't play on obvious passing downs. But don't be surprised if June sometimes stays in with Brooks and eventually succeeds him at weakside.
2. Kevin Carter Defensive lineman
Carter turns 34 in September, but there are few players more durable. The former Florida standout has never missed a game in his career, 192 straight (the past 32 with the Dolphins). At 6 feet 6, he gives the Bucs good size up front with an ability to get his hands on passes. He has the versatility to play tackle or end. The Bucs plan to play him at undertackle to start the season, a position they have had trouble filling since Warren Sapp left. Carter is equally effective against the run and pass, boasting 971/2 career sacks. He also is a leader, having played on the 1999 Rams team that won the Super Bowl and the 2001 Titans team that reached the AFC title game.
3. Luke Petitgout Left tackle
Nobody was as surprised that Petitgout was available as Petitgout. After playing eight seasons with the Giants, he planned to end his career there. But a broken left leg sidelined him halfway through the 2006 season, and he was stunned when the Giants decided to go another direction. At 31, Petitgout is in the prime of his career and a definite upgrade at left tackle from Anthony Davis, who admittedly struggled in pass protection. But you have to wonder: How many NFL teams cut left tackles in their prime? Petitgout has had some back issues. If he holds up, it would be huge for Jeff Garcia's backside.
4. Gaines Adams Defensive end
The Bucs defense did not finish among the top 10 for the first time in a decade, primarily because they couldn't put any pressure on the passer. Quarterbacks had a rating of nearly 90 against the Bucs, who had just 25 sacks. No wonder Tampa Bay used its first-round pick (fourth overall) on Adams, the best pure pass rusher in the draft. The question is, where does he play? Simeon Rice is expected to recover from season-ending left shoulder surgery. Adams is his heir apparent at right end. But how do you take Rice out of the lineup? The answer? You don't - at least not on passing downs. Look for Adams to flop to the left side on third and long, the perfect way for him to make an impact.
5. Sabby Piscitelli Safety
We know what you're thinking. Hard-hitting safety. Six feet 3, 224 pounds. Square jaw. Polite kid. Looks and sounds a little like, ahem, John Lynch. Get over yourself. It just so happens Piscitelli's idol is Lynch, and now he has a chance to play that position in the same defense. But it won't happen overnight. The comparisons to Lynch are inevitable if unfair. Piscitelli might have to contribute on special teams. But the team didn't take him in the second round to sit on the bench. Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen have some competition.
. . . and around the NFL
1. Randy Moss Receiver, Patriots
After two miserable seasons in Oakland, where he was a disgruntled member of, arguably, the league's most inept offense, Moss finds himself smack dab in the middle of preseason Super Bowl talk after being traded to the talent-laden Patriots. Quarterback Tom Brady makes mediocre receivers look like Pro Bowl candidates. Imagine what he can do with one of the game's most feared deep threats.
2. Calvin Johnson Receiver, Lions
Analysts agreed Johnson, the second overall pick from Georgia Tech, was the draft's only sure thing. Size, strength, speed, hands, work ethic, attitude - Johnson has it all. Granted, meat-and-potatoes quarterback Jon Kitna isn't exactly an elite receiver's dream, but offensive coordinator Mike Martz sure is. Could the Greatest Show on Turf II be taking shape in Motown?
3. Thomas Jones Running back, Jets
Jones, who has made stops in Arizona, Tampa Bay and Chicago, will be a workhorse for New York. Of course, he has a long way to run to catch recently retired Curtis Martin in the hearts of J-E-T-S fans, but Jones won over Bears teammates and fans with his hard-nosed style. He won't be New York's next media darling, a la Tiki Barber, but he'll sell plenty of jerseys.
4. LaRon Landry Free safety, Redskins
The first-round pick (sixth overall) from LSU is sure to make a few highlight reels, especially playing beside talented strong safety Sean Taylor. Washington's defense ranked 31st last season, which is a slightly nicer way of saying the 'Skins had the second-worst defense in the league. Once Landry gets up to speed in coordinator Gregg Williams' complex system, he will shine.
5. Matt Schaub Quarterback, Texans
After three seasons as Michael Vick's highly regarded backup in Atlanta, Schaub replaces much-maligned David Carr as the starter. The Texans won three of their final five games last season under rookie coach Gary Kubiak, and Schaub is expected to provide instant leadership. Here's a fun story line to follow: The Texans visit the Falcons on Sept. 30.
Rick Stroud and Joanne Korth, Times staff writers