B.J. Raji, Boston College, DT/NT, 6'2", 337lbs
B.J. Raji stood outside the Boston College Sports Complex and cried. Just two days before the end of training camp in 2007, he had just been told he was academically ineligible to play football in the 2007 season.
It wasn't because of his grades. An academic advisor had miscalculated his credits, and through no fault of his own, he was three credits short of the NCAA's requirements. It would become a test of his character, and one that he would pass with an A+.
B.J. Raji grew up in Washington Township, NJ, the oldest of three children. His father had immigrated to the USA from Nigeria and both parents are Pentecostal ministers. B.J., whose real name is Busari, was active in his church, playing drums and tutoring children.
He attended Westwood Regional High School in Bergen County NJ, where besides football, he played basketball for two years. He gave up basketball when he realized "I wasn't going to get any taller, and I wasn't going to be Allen Iverson."
While in high school, he was a three-year starter on both offense and defense, and received some personal tutoring from former NJ Giant J.T. Turner.
He really blossomed in his senior year, recording 75 tackles, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Raji earned NJ All-State honors and was selected to play in the Governor's Bowl, where top HS seniors from New Jersey and New York compete before their college careers begin.
B.J. received offers from several Division I colleges, including Wisconsin and Rutgers. He chose Boston College because he liked the campus, and they have a strong recruiting presence in North Jersey.
As a freshman with the Eagles, Raji cracked the DL rotation and played in eight games.
His sophomore year, he started all 12 contests at right defensive tackle, registering 27 tackles (20 solos), 1.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and one pass breakup.
As junior year rolled around, Raji's weight had ballooned to 350 pounds. Head coach Jeff Jagodzinski insisted he get down to the 320-330 range by the season's start, and B.J. did just that.
He went on to have a solid, if unspectacular season, earning second team All-ACC honors. He finished the season having started 12 games, with 23 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Raji was primed for his senior season, working incredibly hard in the offseason and reporting to training camp 20 pounds lighter than the previous year. As training camp drew to a close, he got the horrible news about his academic ineligibility.
"The first week or two, I said to myself, "Man, this is going to be tough," Raji told The Boston Globe before the 2008 season. "But then I decided that I could use this for better or worse, depending on what I did. I made the decision to make things better by turning my attention to my schoolwork and trying to make the best of it."
He also decided to help out however he could. He participated in every practice, playing for the scout team and handing out pointers to the guys actually playing in games.
"There wasn't any sulking about it," his defensive-line coach, Jeff Comissiong, said. "It helped him to understand that he needed to prioritize things in his life. It helped him mature quite a bit. And his teammates had more respect for him because of it. He was doing everything he can to help out. It was fun having him around because it was like having another coach around."
Raji got through that difficult year and came back stronger and more motivated than ever. Projected as a third round draft choice before his final season, he moved up into first round territory with a fantastic senior year.
For much of 2008, Raji was unblockable and showed what a truly dominant force he can be when in shape and motivated. He played in 13 games and recorded 42 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks from the defensive tackle position.
Raji was invited to, and played in, the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. He had a superb week of practice and game play. He often outworked, and was practically unblockable against some of the best guard and center prospects in the draft. That showing safely moved Raji into the top half of the first round.
Next, at the NFL Scouting Combine, Raji bench pressed 225 lbs., 33 times, which was fifth best amongst all 53 defensive lineman, and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.13 seconds, not bad for someone who weighs 337 pounds. He raised some eyebrows when he displayed more quickness than expected.
Raji seems to be a favorite of Green Bay Packers fans for their first selection with the ninth pick of the draft. I think he brings back memories of Gilbert Brown (The Gravedigger). Do the Packers' GM and coaches feel the same way? We'll know on April 26th.
SCOUTING Report from NFLDraftScout.com
Positives: Flashes rare burst off the snap for a man his size and can penetrate into the backfield and disrupt the play without necessarily making the tackle. ... Good strength and mass at the point of attack to create a pile. ... Good short-area lateral quickness. ... Experienced. Missed the 2007 season due to academics, but leaves BC with 38 career starts. ... Locates the ball quickly and works to make the play. ... At his best lining up at the nose, though he flashes the initial burst off the snap to be effective as the under-tackle in the 4-3 alignment. ... Strong enough to pull down ballcarriers with just his arms. ... Arguably the single-most dominant player during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl.
Negatives: Marginal height for the position. ... Only adequate to shed blocks due to his short arms and lack of sustained quickness. ... Rare quickness in confined space, but lacks the speed to sustain and struggles to make an impact outside of the guard box. ... Flashes the burst off the snap for the three-technique (under tackle in the 4-3 alignment), but is only a marginal pass rusher. ... Relies on his initial burst off the snap and an occasional spin move to pressure. ... Reliable tackler, but lacks the balance and lateral quickness to break down and make the tackle in space. ... Most effective when operating as part of a rotation. ... Maturity is a concern. ... Has struggled with his weight, playing in 2006 at more than 350 pounds. ... Was suspended for the first half of the Clemson game in 2006 for throwing a punch at a Central Michigan player. ... Missed the entire 2007 season due to academics.