19

December

What Happened to Packers Defensive Lineman B.J. Raji?

Where have you gone, B.J. Raji?

The Green Bay Packers have desperately missed Aaron Rodgers ever since he went down with a broken collarbone in week eight. Over that same stretch, the Packers have also desperately missed B.J. Raji, even though the 337-pound defensive lineman played in every game.

Through the season’s first eight games, Raji was a force. He was energetic and explosive and spent a good amount of time in the opposing team’s backfield. It looked like the Raji of 2010 had returned and he was finally establishing himself as one of those elite defensive lineman who doesn’t put up big stats, but makes a world of difference each and every week beyond the box score.

Then Raji fell off the face of the Earth. He didn’t just regress, he disappeared.

It’s weird because there were no warning signs that Raji was about to go in the tank. He was one of the few players on the team that hasn’t battled injuries (as far as we know, anyway). He’s still young and he’s a free agent this offseason. All signs pointed to a good season becoming great for the former No. 9 overall pick out of Boston College.

Raji was credited for 11 solo defensive stops through the first eight games, according to Pro Football Focus. He only has two in the last six games. Also according to Pro Football Focus, Raji has finished with a negative run defense rating in every game since the Bears loss.

Even if you’re not into Pro Football Focus metrics, it’s painfully obvious that Raji has fallen off a cliff. He’s always been susceptible to getting completely wiped out of running plays, but it’s gone from happening every now and then to happening on a regular basis. Watch the Vikings tie or the final drive of the Eagles game. When the Packers desperately needed a run-stuffing play up front, there was Raji getting washed down the line or blown off the ball.

Rumor has it that Raji turned down an $8 million per season contract extension from the Packers earlier this season. At the time, the offer made sense. Raji is a big and athletic lineman who played well inside and was able to hold his own outside. He’s also durable, a rarity on the modern-day Packers. He wasn’t a superstar, but $8 million per year for the type of player that Raji was matched the market rate.