A Look Back at BJ Raji

Looking back at the former nose tackle that retired way too soon. 

He hasn’t played an NFL game since 2015, but former Green Bay Packers nose tackle, BJ Raji, could return tomorrow and be a fan-favorite once again. Raji was a great locker room presence and also served as the co-star to Aaron Rodgers in a State Farm commercial. But most importantly, he was a hell of a football player. That often gets overlooked when looking back on his short-lived career.

A former top-10 pick, there was a lot of anticipation for Raji’s impact in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. An ankle injury set Raji’s rookie season back quite a bit, limiting him to sporadic snaps over 14 games and just one start. However, his second season might have been the best of his career.

Having solidified the job at nose tackle so Ryan Pickett could slide over to defensive end, Raji finished with 6.5 sacks, 39 tackles, and 10 tackles for loss in 2010. All ended up being career-highs.

However, as it so happens in the NFL, Raji didn’t make his one and only Pro-Bowl until the following season despite having inferior numbers. Being a nose tackle, it’s not easy to become a household name or even get the recognition you might deserve. Just ask Kenny Clark.

Raji eventually got his due, though. In 2011, he was voted #81 overall by his peers in NFL Network’s list of Top 100 NFL Players. A list Clark has yet to crack though he has a solid chance this year when NFL Network continues the annual tradition July 26.

Raji’s play fell off a bit from 2012-2013 before he suffered a torn bicep that robbed him of the entire 2014 season. It was devastating for Raji, who was in a contract year. Luckily, the two sides were able to reach a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. In 15 games, Raji was steady and appeared healthy enough to warrant another contract.

However, the former ninth overall pick shocked everyone when he announced his retirement that March. The Packers reportedly offered Raji a fair deal, and he also received interest from other teams. However, Raji decided to hang up his cleats, finishing with 11 career sacks and 151 combined tackles with 24 of those resulting in a loss. The nose tackle citied family and a sense of distance from the game of football as reasons for calling it quits.

The timing of Raji’s decision gave the team plenty of time to prepare for life without him with practically an entire offseason out in front of them. Green Bay went on to select Clark with their first-round pick. As they say, the rest is history.

Now when most people think about Raji they remember the pick-six in the 2010 NFC Championship game, or how he retired in his prime in what some thought would just be a temporary hiatus. We’ve been subjected to Raji return rumors during almost every offseason since his retirement. However, nothing ever materialized as perhaps some of these “rumors” were more of a hopeful fantasy.

Even today, during the dead periods of the NFL calendar, it’s hard not to wonder what Raji is up to despite being five years removed from his last snap. We never got to see Raji and Clark play together in the trenches, but there’s also a chance Clark would not have been a Packer if Raji had stuck around. For that, maybe Raji’s decision was a blessing in disguise.

A half-decade later, it still feels like something good was taken from Packers fans too soon. Raji was fun to watch for a multitude of reasons both on the field and off it. He was easy to root for, and I’m sure most miss doing so. Raji turned 34 on Saturday, so if you haven’t already, wish The Freezer a Happy Belated Birthday.

 

 

Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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Comments (23)

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stockholder's picture

July 13, 2020 at 07:31 am

Starting in 2011, the coaching staff wanted to move Raji around so that he could play NT and defensive end (DE). This decision seemed odd. From 2011-2013, he really never played at the same level that he did in 2010. Many people said that his mediocre play from 2011-2013 (especially in 2013) was due to a lack of motivation. There may be truth to that, but my main argument was that he was more comfortable at NT and that he needed to exclusively play NT again (his natural position). In 2013, which was Raji’s worst season, he exclusively played DE. .By Robertolsaon.

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Oppy's picture

July 13, 2020 at 08:16 pm

NT wasn't Raji's natural position though. Yes, he looked the part, but he wasn't a good NT. That guy got rolled back 5 yards deep by solo blocks far too often.

Raji was a quick twitch player trying to play a stout man's game. Raji was never that stout. Ryan Pickett was twice the NT Raji was.

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Stroh's picture

July 15, 2020 at 11:27 pm

That's a bunch of baloney! Raji didn't get pushed around like that. Pickett might have been a little better vs the run, but Raji was no slouch. Raji was absolutely a natural NT and his pass rush fron the NT spot was outstanding early in his career. When they started moving him around it definitely affected his game. The change of position/moving around was detrimental to him. He excelled directly over center and in the A gaps. Anything outside the A gap and his play suffered.

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mnbadger's picture

July 13, 2020 at 07:50 am

Thank you for the look back to a fan favorite. Please add to the article with an update to his current state? Maybe there's a young BJ coming along that we could pick up down the road? GPG

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Leatherhead's picture

July 13, 2020 at 08:28 am

I think that if you can retire as a multimillionaire before you’re 30 then that’s a good move.

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gkarl's picture

July 13, 2020 at 09:33 am

Especially the way interior play takes a toll on the body. Good for BJ, hopefully he got out before his body was broken to the point it didn't allow him to enjoy life after football.

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PeteK's picture

July 13, 2020 at 08:33 am

I would rather remember Cullen Jenkins from that defense. He was an undrafted free agent who played with toughness and grit. Instead of Raji who was the ninth player drafted and lost motivation.

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Oppy's picture

July 13, 2020 at 08:35 pm

"Big Sexy" was an absolute beast. Seeing him stand up on the line in Dom's 1-5-5 Psyco package was a treat. What a ferocious defender on the field, and such an amicable, soft spoken man off of it.

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fastmoving's picture

July 14, 2020 at 04:02 am

was a pretty selfless move to admit to have no motivation anymore and left the money outthere.
A lot of guys play half hearted, just for the money.

Special Footballer even better person.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

July 13, 2020 at 10:22 am

The play that I most remember from Raji is when he scored a TD on offense as a fullback.

https://www.packers.com/video/the-freezer-raji-punches-it-in-6320468

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Oppy's picture

July 13, 2020 at 08:32 pm

That was a fun one for sure.

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ILPackerBacker's picture

July 13, 2020 at 12:36 pm

His last years were a joke. It is not coincidence that the packer run defense sucked when he got snaps....see the houston away game for contrast.....and jumped up when the younger guys who did not lie down on the grass in front of the cowboy OL got on the field. At the end Raji was a disgrace

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 13, 2020 at 01:40 pm

I would hardly characterize a football player who's skills are diminishing a "disgrace".
What a crappy thing to say. I wish I could give your comment 20 thumbs down.

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PeteK's picture

July 13, 2020 at 04:38 pm

He was so bad at the end , Steve McQueen would have kicked his ass without a fire extinguisher.

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13TimeChamps's picture

July 13, 2020 at 04:59 pm

Pretty sure he could still kick your ass though.
You know, once you step out from behind your computer.

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PeteK's picture

July 13, 2020 at 06:57 pm

Lighten up, go for a walk.

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fordguy's picture

July 14, 2020 at 12:11 pm

More tough talk from the biggest bitch on this site says that.

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Stroh's picture

July 15, 2020 at 11:31 pm

You come off as a disgrace to the human race!

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Oppy's picture

July 13, 2020 at 08:30 pm

Raji had a role on those teams, and he was probably played out of position his entire career with the Packers.
He was never a good NT; in fact, he was probably the #3 Nose on that super bowl team. Howard Green was a better NT and Ryan Pickett was the man at nose and unfortunately too many Packers fans didn't appreciate how dominant a NT he was, but that's the down side to playing NT, it's not a sexy stat-racking position when played the way it needs to be played.

All that said.. Raji's calling was probably to play as a 3-tech DT in a 4-3 scheme where he would have been afforded a single gap responsibility and be offered the opportunity to split the guard and tackle and use his unexpected agility to work down the line to the ball carrier or upfield to disrupt the passer. He was never either skilled or strong enough, or perhaps he didn't have the heart, to take on the doubles in the hole and control two gaps. Not a lot of men are equiped physically, and less equipped mentally, to take the kind of punishment a NT faces down in and down out, and be able to shrug off a double and make a tackle in either A gap.

He was a talented player who's abilities were probably wasted in Caper's 3-4 scheme, to be honest.

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NickPerry's picture

July 14, 2020 at 12:39 am

"He was a talented player who's abilities were probably wasted in Caper's 3-4 scheme, to be honest."

As were several players who played for Capers. Capers has a LONG history of "Pigeon Holing" players. Just look at what Micah Hyde has done in Buffalo or Casey Hayward for the SD-LA Chargers. Hyde would have been the PERFECT FS on a Packers team that needed one almost the entire time Hyde was here. Hayward was a hell of a boundary CB but Capers and the rest of the coaches felt he wasn't big enough or fast enough.

Capers wasted a LOT of players careers while in GB.

SMH!!!

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Oppy's picture

July 14, 2020 at 11:12 pm

Not a matter of capers ruining raji's career. Raji just woud have benefited from a traditional 4-3 defense. IMO, of course.. I just dont think BJ was a good fit for a 3-4.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 14, 2020 at 02:30 am

Never give Raji a ton of guaranteed money. Oops, that was just my habit when I commented about Raji when he was still a Packer.

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

July 15, 2020 at 10:36 am

Raji was played out of position. He was an elite cover corner. The only time I saw him drop back in coverage it resulted in a pick six. Or a fullback. Every time he touched the ball he scored. Why we wasted his talent on the d-line is a mystery.

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