Athlete Profile: B.J. Raji

B.J. Raji has never had much trouble with offensive linemen, quarterbacks, or even running backs. It’s those associate deans he’s had to watch out for.

Prior to his 2007 season at Boston College, he was assured by an associate dean that he only had to complete two summer courses to be academically eligible to play that season.

Unfortunately, he actually needed three — which meant that Raji would be academically ineligible for the 2007 season.

Raji was devastated when told the news by then-BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski. But instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for himself, he went to work: dominating for the Eagles’ scout team and hitting the gym hard every day.

Then, back on the field in 2008, he took all the frustration out on his opponents, exploding for 42 tackles and seven sacks from his defensive tackle position.

Given how well everything has ended up working out for Raji, it must be hard for him to stay mad at the associate dean who contributed to his missing the 2007 season. Raji currently stands poised to become a top-10 pick in April’s NFL Draft, with a very good shot at going in the top 5.

Raji finds himself in such high demand because of the 6-2, 340-pounder’s ability to plug up holes in the running game and wreak havoc on quarterbacks in the passing game. He has emerged as the best prospect among all defensive tackles, a position that seems to always be increasing in value in the minds of NFL coaches and executives. Albert Haynesworth, considered one of the league’s best players at the position, just signed a seven-year, $100 million contract this offseason with the Washington Redskins. Many scouts and NFL general managers see Raji as a player who could potentially impact the game the same way Haynesworth and other dominant defensive tackles do.

Teams do have a few reservations about selecting Raji high in the first round, including is his weight. When Jagodzinski first arrived at the Eagles’ coach in 2007, he made it his number one priority to see to it that Raji trimmed down his size so that his quickness would not be bogged down. Teams don’t want to see the big man tipping the scales past the 340 mark. Also, concerns have been raised concerning Raji’s character because of his academic issues in 2007.

There is little concern, however about Raji’s on-the-field performance in 2008. Raji and fellow defensive tackle prospect Ron Brace formed a fearsome combination in the middle of the Eagles’ defense. Their presence was so formidable that many teams entered into games against BC without any plans to run the football whatsoever, because they were so intimidated by the hulking, disruptive defensive linemen.

Becoming the same kind of impact player in the NFL shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Raji. And offensive linemen, running backs and quarterbacks should all be put on notice.

At least in the NFL, Raji won’t have to worry about any of those pesky deans.

Latest on Raji

The Detroit Lions, owners of the draft’s top overall pick, have reportedly met with Raji privately.

ESPN analysts Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay are split on where they think Raji will go in the draft, but both have him being selected within the top 5 picks.

Raji on the Web

NFL Draft Scout Profile: Stats and measurables

Boston College Profile: Personal info and statistics from Raji’s Boston College career Profile: Stats on Raji

Q&A With Niner Nation blog: Raji dishes on his BC career, draft prospects

Midseason Feature by the Boston Globe: Discusses Raji’s rising draft stock Feature: This midseason article details Raji’s comeback from lost season in 2007

Raji Says

On being ineligible during the 2007 season:

“All I wanted was to play on Saturdays. It hurt not to be out there.”

On switching full time from basketball to football in high school:

“I guess reality struck when I stopped growing. I wasn’t going to be Allen Iverson.”

On why a team should pick him:

“The reason a GM should pick me is because I believe that I can have an immediate impact on a defense and along with that I will put the teams before me.”

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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