PackerReport.com blog: Defense first

General manager Ted Thompson fortified his defense by drafting B.J. Raji with the ninth pick of the draft and trading back into the first round to get Clay Matthews Jr. We've got comments from all three, plus links to Scout.com's NFL coverage team and an excerpt from our magazine story on Raji.

Welcome to the NFL Draft!

Along with our live coverage from Lambeau Field, keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on around the league with these three Scout.com links:

Follow the draft on our Scout.com Day 1 Draft Tracker.

Ed Thompson's insider blog.

Adam Caplan's Round 1 blog.

I was in the chat room off and on for more than 3 hours on Saturday. Look for me in there around 3 p.m. on Sunday. Click here to enter our chat room.


Comments from Matthews and Thompson Thompson, on Matthews' family ties (father Clay was a longtime linebacker for Cleveland and uncle Bruce is a Hall of Fame tackle): "Well, Clay is his own man. He's probably, through our interviews with him, and he can speak for himself, he wants to stand on his own two feet, and I think he's done a very good job of that at USC. I'm sure he's not going to rest on the laurels of his father and uncle. He's his own man. He came into USC and some of these guys that are getting drafted today were linebackers, high recruits and things, so he had to work his way up. He was their very best special teams player for the first two years at USC until he started playing more, so he's earned his way. He's earned his way."

Thompson on why he sacrificed a second-round pick and both third-rounders: "Yeah, I don't think it was so much that really as how much we thought of Clay. We really wanted to try to get him. We have thought about this for the past couple of weeks in terms of what strategies we would use to maybe try to get him at some point. People had him going anywhere from like No. 12 or so to No. 30. We didn't know where it would be. Actually, quite frankly when I was here before, I had no idea that we would be able to get back in a position that we would be able to take him. I didn't know."

Matthews, on linebackers coach Kevin Greene: "He's intense. He's an intense guy. I bought into it. I loved what he had to say. Obviously, watching him play back in the day, he was an outstanding player. He sounds like a terrific coach. I'm looking to come in there and start getting under his wing and start developing into a good player."

Matthews, on whether he was surprised to go to Green Bay: "I knew the Packers were interested. They were one of the most fun teams to meet with at the Senior Bowl and (the Combine). I'm pleased to end up in Green Bay."

Kevin Greene: "It was clear he was a man on a mission. I think everybody knows his genealogy and bloodlines. Just listening to him and hearing him talk, he's on a mission … he wants to stand on his own and be considered a great player in his own right. You've got to love the fact that he's a former walk-on. Those kind of guys had to scratch and claw for all of their successes. That stuff doesn't come easy."

Trade lands Clay Matthews Jr.

In a shocker, Packers general manager Ted Thompson traded back into the first round to get USC outside linebacker Clay Matthews Jr.

The Packers dealt their second- and third-round picks (Nos. 41, 73 and 83) to get the Patriots' first-round pick (No. 26) and fifth-rounder (162).

Pick 83 was the Brett Favre pick.

Matthews' uncle, Hall of Fame offensive tackle Bruce Matthews, played with Thompson with the Houston Oilers.

I talked to Matthews at the Scouting Combine in February, and he told me that he enjoyed talking to Thompson and sharing stories with the Packers' scouts, most of whom are former NFL players.

It was a bold move by Thompson, and it creates a massive logjam at outside linebacker.

Matthews was a 169-pound walk-on before finally breaking into the starting lineup early during his senior season. He had 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for losses.

Raji conference call highlights

Thoughts on being a Packer: I just feel honored to be taken by such a great franchise."

Think end up here?: Thought fifth through ninth he'd be taken … "I knew it was a possibility."

Like to play in a 3-4 defense: "Yes, I do. From what I've been told, I played in it somewhat in college. I heard it's a great scheme. I'd be honored to be in the middle of the defense." 2007 suspension … change as a person and player: "It just taught me a lot about humility. It got my focus together. I knew if I could get that, I knew I would be OK."

Strength/weakness: "Strength would be my competitive nature, my will to win. No matter if I'm playing football or rock-paper-scissors, I want to win." Work on: Technique.

False reports of failed drug test: "I couldn't help but be frustrated. I don't know how it came about. I'll never understand. You spend your whole college career trying to build your character, and in a few moments, someone tries to tear it down."

Parents as ministers: "It was different. They were a lot stricter than most parents. It truly helped me."

Father from Nigeria: "There not much of a story to it. He came over from Nigeria because he was trying to further his studies in the medical field. He got over here, met my mom, and I'm here today."

Best game: North Carolina State. Had three sacks.

Emulate any player: Likes Warren Sapp and guys like that. Watched a lot of Florida State and Miami defensive linemen because of their quickness.

Leadership: Both by example and vocally. "They tend to do what they see you do."

Thompson on Raji

Here is what general manager Ted Thompson had to say. I was typing as fast as I could, so forgive the occasional typo.

"We think a lot of Michael Crabtree. Yeah, it was a difficult call, but we feel comfortable we did the right thing."

Surprised he got to 9.

"He's a very powerful, explosive defensive lineman."

Ability to rush the passer. "Gives us a little flexibility with Ryan (Pickett)." Raji is athletic enough to move around the line.

Need "is always going to be a factor, but you don't take a lesser player." Raji and Crabtree were rated about equally.

Character: "He's a very engaging fellow, very articulate. … So, the answer is no."

"He's a classic nose tackle build. We think B.J. is a very good football player. He's more than a space-eater. He's a little more than that. We're excited about him."

Trade?: "We were pretty convinced we were going to take a player. We took a few calls, but we were just being polite."

A "powerful, powerful man. He has the ability to take people backwards where they don't want to go." Also quick. Hard to find his skill-set. "The good Lord just didn't make many people like this."

Not booed: "They're getting soft. I've got thick enough skin. The Jets picked a pretty good quarterback, and I saw the fans booing that pick.

Homework on Raji because of character: Yes, but always do homework, especially on early picks. Talked to former Packers assistant Jeff Jagodzinski, who coached B.C. last year.

"I didn't expect the board to look like that when it got to 9." Wanted to think it through because of it, so that's why he took a lot of time.

Senior Bowl dominance: Important, but college games are more important.

Pass rusher: "He won't necessarily be coming off the field on third down. I think you can probably leave him in."

Raji over Crabtree: "I'm not going to speak to Crabtree too much. … All things being equal, you guys know how much we value big people, both on the offense and defensive line. The good ones are really hard to find. It gets to be a supply-and-demand thing."

From Packer Report magazine's predraft feature on Raji

Three teams run the 3-4 defense better than anybody. What do they all have in common? Dominating, offensive linemen-eating nose tackles.

The New England Patriots have 325-pound Vince Wilfork. The Pittsburgh Steelers have 325-pound Casey Hampton. The Baltimore Ravens have 345-pound Haloti Ngata.

Many NFL insiders think Boston College's B.J. Raji will join that small group of big men. Raji, who tipped the scaled at 337 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, is a sure-fire top-15 pick. Because he's head and shoulders (and midsection) better than the other nose tackle prospects, Raji figures to go in the top 10, or maybe even the top five. If he's still on the board at No. 9, he'd be a perfect fit for the Packers as they implement a 3-4 scheme.

"The one thing is to make sure he doesn't stop by too many restaurants once he gets that contract," Boston College defensive line coach Jeff Comissiong said. "But B.J. is a unique player. He can fit a number of different systems. There are not too many guys his size who can move around as well as he can. He can control a gap with his size and strength, and he can hold his own at the point as a nose tackle. Us as coaches, we don't get too many players like that."

In a 3-4, everything starts with the nose tackle's ability to control the line of scrimmage. If he can be blocked, teams will have success running ball and will be able to stay out of certain passing situations, where 3-4 teams create the most havoc. Raji is big and strong enough to control the run. Plus, he had eight sacks during his senior season, so he has value even on third-and-long.

Asked at the Scouting Combine to state his case to NFL general managers, Raji said: "I think they'll get an overall defensive tackle who can do both — get to the quarterback, stop the run. A team leader by example, a good guy on and off the field."

Because Raji didn't have enough credits, he wasn't allowed on the field on game days in 2007. He considered entering the 2008 draft, but elected to buckle down on his classwork and in the weight room while giving it his all on the scout team at practice. He came back in 2008 with a vengeance and is a changed man.

"He won't ever not handle things the right way," Comissiong said. "He will handle things well in the public. He will always conduct himself as a man. Now, B.J. knows when to take things seriously and when not to. But he wants to play football, and that is his No. 1 focus."

Raji's hunger is evident. While being mentioned as a top-10 prospect might lead some players to think they've made the big-time and to ponder just how they'll spend that $10 million signing bonus, Raji remains grounded.

"I haven't accomplished anything yet," said Raji, who sounded enthusiastic when the Packers' need for a nose tackle was mentioned. "It feels good to know that I can play and my intensity and work ethic has paid off to some extent. I'm not done yet, but the feedback from my coaches and scouts is the most rewarding. They're not going to lie to the coaches."

The scoop on B.J. Raji

From the official Raji biography handed out by the Packers:

Compares to: Shaun Rogers.

Academic suspension in 2007. Came back in 2008 with a career-high 42 tackles (22 solo), a team-high eight sacks and 16 tackles for losses. Batted down five passes at the line of scrimmage.

He's a big guy with a decent initial burst for a player his size. He is agile moving down the line and light on his feet, but lacks the suddenness to explode through the gaps.

Has had weight issues; getting up to 360. Has been knocked for not being a hard worker and is not a self-starter. But on the field, his actions speak volumes.

Packers pick B.J. Raji

The Green Bay Packers just selected Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji.

The 330-pound run-stuffer commands a double team while contributing eight sacks last season for the Eagles.

Packers are on the clock!

With eight picks down, including the Raiders' shocking decision to grab slippery-handed receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, here are the players who are available at No. 9: NT B.J. Raji, OLB Brian Orakpo, OT Michael Oher, WR Michael Crabtree, OLBs Aaron Maybin and Everette Brown.

Training camp starts Aug. 1

The Packers have announced that training camp begins on Saturday, Aug. 1.

The Rookie Orientation Camp will be held May 1-3. Four weeks of organized team activities will begin in late May, with the mandatory minicamp from Monday, June 22, through Wednesday, June 24.

So much for that prediction!

The Chiefs took Tyson Jackson at No. 3 overall. He was a popular pick for the Packers at No. 9, including by yours truly.

A shocker of a pick. As my colleague W. Keith Roerdink just told me, that's way too high for a guy who's not going to be a big-time pass rusher in the NFL.

That probably means the rumored Packers-Patriots first-round swap is off. Jackson was the guy the Patriots were interested in landing. But who knows with Belichick.

Packer Report's final prediction

For holding such a high draft pick, it's anybody's guess who the Packers will wind up selecting with the ninth overall pick, or whether they'll even hold onto that choice.

All bets are off if Kansas City picks this guy at No. 3 in a few minutes, but I'm going with LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Jackson is the only ready-made 3-4 defensive end in this draft, just like B.J. Raji is the only ready-made 3-4 nose tackle. Jackson, however, comes with a lot less personal baggage; Raji reportedly failed three drug tests at Boston College and apparently has been forthcoming that he has smoked marijuana. That doesn't make Raji a bad person, but it does make him a failed test away from a four-game suspension.

On the field, Jackson and Cullen Jenkins would form a fine pair of defensive ends, with Ryan Pickett a solid nose tackle. That's a good starting line, which would be even stronger if end Justin Harrell amounts to anything.

Jackson (6-4, 295) is a big, strong player with enough athleticism to at least pressure the passer. He doesn't have the closing speed to be a big-time sack artist, but he doesn't need to be. The value of Chris Canty in Dallas was letting DeMarcus Ware run free to the quarterback.

Final mock drafts

On ESPN, Mel Kiper predicts Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji and Todd McShay guesses Texas' linebacker Brian Orakpo. NFL Network's Mike Mayock predicts Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe.

Lions make it official

Detroit has kicked off the draft by selecting Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford. Merely six years and up to $74 million, with $41 million guaranteed. Chump change for the affluent Detroit area, we know.

Somehow, something must be done to control rookie salaries. It should be a relatively easy compromise. The NFLPA should agree to limiting rookie contracts while the NFL will put in a salary floor to ensure they're not going to simply pocket the extra money.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, 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 and Facebook.


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