Road block, space eater, and run stuffer are all phrases used to describe the best two-gap defensive tackles in the NFL. All week at the Under Amour North-South Senior Bowl, they have been the terms used to describe B.J. Raji.
The 6’1″ 323 pound defensive from Boston College has been impressing coaches and scouts since day one of practice with his explosive get-off and quick steps.
As long as he doesn’t end-up on his back all day during January 24ths Senior Bowl, Raji has done everything in his power to become a top-10 draft pick.
Practices at the Senior Bowl are equally as, if not more important, than the actual game. The North and South teams are coached by NFL coaching staffs. This year, Cincinnati is coaching the North, while Jacksonville is coaching the south.
The Bengals have the sixth pick in the draft, and it has been suspected that they may take Raji because of his disruptive demeanor on the field. The Senior Bowl is a great opportunity for players to increase their draft stock, by performing in front of NFL coaches and personnel.
In 2007, Patrick Willis used the game to impress then-49ers and Senior Bowl coach Mike Nolan, and was he was selected 11th overall in the draft.
In 2008, D-1AA quarterback Joe Flacco proved he could play with the big-boys, and elevated his draft status from the third Round to eventually being chosen as the 18th overall pick.
Accompanying Raji to the game is his Boston College linemate, 6’3″ 329 pound defensive tackle Ron Brace. Like Raji, Brace is impressing coaches despite having more negatives such as a sloppy build and average quickness.
Raji isn’t perfect either; he is shorter than the prototype DT, so although he can get under blockers, it’s harder from him to generate ideal power. On the other hand he is roughly the same size as the Patriots’ disruptive force Vince Wilfork, and he has a very similar playing style.
He has a mean streak that he displayed in 2006 by punching a Central Michigan player. He also has a lazy streak displayed by his academic issues.
As a senior Raji recorded seven sacks, but his height limits his ability to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage. Despite non-ideal size, Raji is the only elite defensive tackle prospect in this year’s draft.
Cincinnati is lacking d-line play and could land him at six, although that may be a reach. San Francisco could continue to sure-up their defense with the 10th pick. Many suspect Raji will land to Denver with the 12th pick, however.
If Raji falls below 12 don’t be surprised to see a team trade-up to get him. Since losing Shaun Rogers the Lions have been lacking an inside presence. The Raiders, Jaguars, Packers, and Bills also had trouble stopping the run and could all benefit from Raji. If for some reason Raji slips, he won’t go past the Colts at 27.