Perhaps no player at the Senior Bowl improved his draft stock and increased his NFL earnings potential more than B.J. Raji.
Raji, Boston College's mountain of a defensive tackle, has soared up draft boards to become a potential top-10 pick with his stellar play this week in Mobile, Ala. With the Green Bay Packers' transition to a 3-4 defense, the addition of the 6-foot-1, 325-pound Raji would provide an instant impact.
"The guy that's really impressed me is B.J. Raji," Scout.com draft expert Chris Steuber said. "I think everyone in Mobile is impressed his play. He's so quick off the line and at his size, he's almost impossible to defend.
"I think he's playing himself into top-10 range right now. I could see him going to the Green Bay Packers at No. 9. The Packers have to upgrade their defensive front and a player like Raji would add a lot."
While the outside linebackers get the sacks and accolades in a 3-4 defense, the key to everything is the man in the middle. A nose tackle must occupy two blockers on every snap to keep the inside linebackers free to make tackles. Think Gilbert Brown.
"It's very important," new defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week. "There are different style nose tackles. Again, some nose tackles can sit in there and play head up on the center in, quote, what people call ‘two-gap.' Others, you put maybe on the edge of the center and they play more of a one-gap scheme. But I think probably the classic nose tackle, you look at the people in the league that have the big, physical nose tackle like a Hampton at Pittsburgh or Wilfork at New England, which are big, physical guys that are hard to knock off the ball. A lot of times they use up a couple of blocks."
The Patriots' Vince Wilfork, the 21st overall pick in the 2004 draft, is 6-foot-2, 325. He made the Pro Bowl and was a second-team All-Pro in 2007. The Steelers' Casey Hampton, the 19th pick in 2001, is 6-foot-1, 320 and is a four-time Pro Bowler. Both are overlooked reasons — as much as 325-pounders can be overlooked — in explaining those teams' continued defensive success.
Raji appears to be cut from the same mold. He's dominated the best centers in the country, Cal's Alex Mack and Oregon's Max Unger, at the Senior Bowl after piling up 16 tackles for loss for the Eagles. Plus, with eight sacks as a senior, he might be able to give the Packers a needed boost with their interior rush.
"I had confidence coming into this week, and I knew that I would be facing the top centers in the nation, and I wanted to show what I could do," Raji, a three-year starter, told Steuber. "I felt like I've been getting better each day, and with this being the last day in full pads, I thought I had my best performance."
In Green Bay, he'd share time with holdover Ryan Pickett, who is coming off of an injury-plagued season. The 330-pound Pickett, who turns 30 in October, is under contract through 2009.
Because of a clerical error, Raji sat out the 2007 season for academic reasons. He contemplated entering the NFL draft but elected to return to Boston College after learning he'd be only a third-round draft pick. Clearly, Raji made the right decision. With a paper-thin class of defensive tackles after Albert Haynesworth in free agency, Raji's lineman-eating ways will be a sought-after commodity in the draft.
"I met some goals," Raji told the Boston Herald before the Music City Bowl. "Obviously, you're never satisfied with your performance, but I think overall, considering that sometimes people completely abandoned the run, I'm pretty satisfied with how I played."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.
UA Senior Bowl: Is he the Packers' top pick?
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