From the time BJ Raji was drafted in 2009, I’ve taken a special interest in this player. Maybe because he’s from a local town here in NJ, maybe because I was hoping he would be one of the linchpins for Dom Caper’s new 3-4 defense – the next “Gravedigger.”
I wrote a profile on Raji back in May of 2009, and later talked to some people who saw him in his HS playing days. “Really nice kid from a nice family,” I heard repeatedly, followed by, not sure if he has enough “mean” in his personality to thrive in the trenches in the NFL.
I discounted those comments for the most part. Surely the Packers wouldn’t have spent a top-10 draft choice on him if the Packers didn’t think he was a potential star.
B.J. Raji made the Pro Bowl in 2011, probably based on the rep earned by his 8 sacks and strong sophomore season in 2010 (film study here). Ironically, though, he just wasn’t that good in 2011.
Raji’s 2012 season for the Packers was noticeably better than 2011, but one major thing was missing; consistency. It seemed to these non-expert eyes that as the season unfolded, Raji had some very strong performances, and some downright awful ones.
Raji terrorized the Bears (film study here) late in the season and a few weeks later was bounced around like a pinball machine by the 49ers offensive line. With those two offensive lines being on opposite ends of the talent scale, a thought crossed my mind; were’s Raji’s “good” performances all against “bad” offensive lines and vica versa?
While a film study would be the optimal way to examine this hypothesis, that kind of free time eludes me, especially with all our NFL Draft prep going on. So, I decided to go to the folks that examine every player on every play over the course of an entire season; Pro Football Focus.
For a little background, lets first take a look at how Raji has graded out over his first four seasons in the NFL.
|Year||OVERALL||Pass Rush||Run Defense|
Looking at these numbers for the first time, I was stricken by how closely they support my “gut feelings” about Raji’s career thus far. Raji had an “ok” rookie year, especially considering that he was hampered by a nagging ankle injury for most of the season. He came on like gangbusters in 2010, especially in the pass rush department. I’ve always felt Raji then started to believe he was a pass rusher, negatively affecting his run defense in 2011. Looking at the -21.2 rating for run defense in 2011, i’d have to say, um.. yeah. Finally, Raji had a bounce back year in 2012, with a better overall performance, albeit an up and down one.
Overall, he graded out as a “positive” in 2012, but now it’s time to get back to my original premise. Did Raji fatten up his numbers against the bad offensive lines to offset poor play against the better lines? Let’s take a look:
(Click here for a detailed explanation of how ProFootballFocus.com grades are calculated.)
Just visually, the graph confirms the up and down nature of Raji’s season. But the real question remains; In 2012, was B.J. Raji a warrior or a shrinking violet when the going got tough?
To help answer that question, I took the Pro Football Focus 2012 offensive line ratings and examined how Raji fared against teams with top-10 (best) lines and bottom 10 (worst) lines. Here’s what I found:
|Team OL||OVERALL||Pass Rush||Run Defense|
(Now, before you says, hey Al, the pass and run numbers don’t average out to the overall number, let me explain. That’s because there are multiple other factors that go into the overall rating – I just chose to display the pass and run numbers for your viewing pleasure.)
Getting back to the hypothesis of this post, the overall numbers seem to support what the eye test was hinting at. Against the top-10 ranking 49ers, Saints, Lions and Vikings, Raji earned an overall negative score of -6.7. Against the bottom-10 ranking Jaguars, Bears, Colts and Cardinals, Raji got fat (no pun…) with an overall positive 6.4 score.
Admittedly, this is a cursory look at the stats. There are volumes more statistics you could sink your teeth into at Pro Football Focus (Subscription costs only$26.99/yr.). That doesn’t, however, diminish what these basic stats reveal:
In 2012, Raji was indeed a shrinking violet against the better offensive lines he faced.——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.