Fourteen years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to make a momentous decision.
Because he failed a drug test, top-rated defensive tackle Warren Sapp had fallen into the Buccaneers' laps with the 12th pick of the first round. All draft picks are gambles, but selecting a player already under the guise of the NFL's drug police just amplifies the uncertainty.
The Buccaneers ultimately gambled on Sapp, and they struck the jackpot with a player who ultimately could wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Now, with the 2009 NFL draft just three weeks away, drug rumors are swirling around this year's top-rated defensive tackle. SI.com reported on Thursday that Boston College's B.J. Raji failed a drug test at the Scouting Combine in February. The reporter cited unnamed sources. Packer Report, through a former NFL scout, learned of the failed drug test three weeks ago but was unable to get enough confirmation to feel comfortable running the story.
Raji's agent, David Dunn, did not immediately respond to an e-mail about the story, though someone from his office declined comment in a separate e-mail. In the SI.com piece, Brian Murphy, the chief operating officer of Athletes First, which represents Raji, said: "We will not comment on rumors from unnamed sources. I do know that B.J. has been one of the hardest workers and nicest individuals that we at Athletes First represent. There is no doubt that he will be an invaluable addition to an NFL team both on the field as a player and in the community as a role model."
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani, who was the Eagles' defensive coordinator during the five seasons Raji was at the school, echoed those thoughts.
"B.J. was a great kid when he played for me. He was exemplary," Spaziani told the Boston Herald. "I don't know how they do things (in the NFL), but I reiterate, with me he was a great kid and he was a great model."
Sapp tested positive for marijuana in 1995. The drug Raji allegedly tested positive for is not known, though he reportedly tested positive for marijuana at Boston College. Raji was not suspended for the offense at Boston College, though it could have taken place in 2007, when he was deemed academically ineligible.
What this means for Raji in a few weeks is the big question mark and only adds to the intrigue of the Packers' draft. Raji has soared up draft boards because of a great senior season, followed by a dominant week at the Senior Bowl and strong workouts at the Combine and on campus. Raji, once considered a strong possibility for the Packers with their ninth pick of the first round, had climbed into position to be a top-five pick.
Now, assuming the reports are true, Raji could be available to the Packers at No. 9, just like Sapp was for Tampa Bay in 1995. The Packers certainly could use a young, dominant performer to pair with Ryan Pickett at nose tackle in the heart of their new 3-4 defense. Defensive line is the Packers' No. 1 need as they make the schematic transition.
"If it's true, I wouldn't want to be Ted Thompson," one NFL personnel man, who stressed that he did not know whether or not the report was true, told Packer Report on Thursday night. "He's a helluva player, but if he tests positive again, he's out for four games. I don't care how good he is. If he's suspended, he's not worth a (darn). I have to tell you, though, I really liked him at the Combine."
A positive test for performance-enhancing drugs at the Combine means the player is subject to more frequent testing. A first positive test while in the NFL means a four-game suspension; a second means an eight-game suspension; a third means a 12-month suspension.
For recreational drugs like marijuana, our source from a few weeks ago said Raji would be put in Stage 2 of the NFL's drug program. If that's the case, that means unannounced tests and a four-game suspension for another positive test. A second positive test in Stage 2 would result in a six-game suspension.
Thompson has emphasized character at practically every turn in building his roster. He and coach Mike McCarthy frequently talk about "Packer People," and Raji might not fit that profile if the failed test is true.
Then again, Sapp stayed out of trouble during his brilliant NFL career. Thompson and the Packers had a formal interview with Raji at the Combine and were at the Senior Bowl and his pro day, and no doubt have talked to numerous coaches and confidantes, so they probably have a decent feel for Raji's character. If Raji tested positive for marijuana, some teams might look at it as merely a mistake of youth.
Of course, there's a chance all of this is a moot point and Raji is still off the board when the Packers are on the clock.
"The Bengals and Raiders pick ahead of your guys, and you know their history," our NFL source joked.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine 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 Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport