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News » Browns considering Raji

Browns considering Raji

Browns considering Raji
NFL DRAFT | Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN; 9 p.m., ESPN2; Sunday, 10 a.m., ESPN

Now that Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji has been cleared of marijuana use, he's right back in the mix for the Browns with the No. 5 overall pick in Saturday's NFL Draft.

Raji, the top-rated tackle, has been in a firestorm since April 2 when Sport Illustrated's Web site, SI.com, reported that he failed a drug test for marijuana at the NFL Combine in February.

Raji's agents vehemently denied the report and a bewildered Raji went about his draft visits - including one to Cleveland - knowing it was false. Finally, after teams spent almost three weeks shifting him around on their draft boards, the NFL released the positive results to clubs last week and Raji's name wasn't on it. On Tuesday, SI.com issued a retraction.

Now, Raji - who told NFL.com that he connected most with Browns coach Eric Mangini and Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams - is back in the top 10.

He is one of the players the Browns are considering with their No. 5 pick.

quot;I couldn't understand how this rumor became such a big splash in the media when there was no evidence, there was no substance to believe it,quot; Raji told the Santa Rosa, Calif., Press-Democrat in early April. quot;The last couple of days I was just trying to figure out: Who? What? Basically, why? Now, I'm happy the truth is out. Obviously, it's not going to be as big of a splash as the negative part. But as long as the coaches and the decision-makers know what is true, then I don't need to be concerned with everybody else.quot;

The report was particularly hard on Raji's close-knit family, especially considering his mom is the pastor at a church in Harlem and his brother is in eighth grade.

quot;I wondered how it could be that something so great like the draft and the anticipation for it could turn into something so embarrassing for them,quot; Raji told NFL.com. quot;It was a big, negative blow to my parents. My brother, Ade, had kids coming up to him at school flashing newspapers in front of his face telling him that his brother used drugs. I do know that with great things comes some type of pressure. I got through it knowing there is a certain peace of mind when you know you have done nothing wrong.quot;

Raji figures to be such a dominant force in the middle that respected experts such as ESPN's Todd McShay and NFL Network's Mike Mayock predict the Browns will take him to shore up their 28th-ranked run defense.

Question is, what would this mean for Browns Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers, who asked the team to trade him in the off-season after two perceived snubs by Mangini? Rogers showed up for the Browns off-season conditioning program after the first few days, but hasn't been heard from since the ordeal.

If he still wants out, the Browns could trade him and draft Raji (6-1?, 337). If they keep both, Rogers could move to end, but that's not his ideal spot. In fact, some draft analysts such as Dave Te' Thomas compare Raji to Rogers.

quot;Rogers is about 3 inches bigger than Raji, but both have the awesome ability to change the tide of a game on the field and frustrate coaches by their lack of work ethic away from it,quot; Thomas writes. quot;Raji had a good senior campaign, but it was not earth-shattering. You have to look at the whole picture here. Is your team going to get a player motivated and hungry to prove his doubters wrong, or a player his former coaching staff had to constantly monitor. That's a lot of money to gamble on someone that can either dominate for you or get a general manager fired.quot;

Raji has been an enigma during his time at Boston College. His ability to stave off the double-team, stuff the run and explode into the backfield is undisputed. But his weight ballooned to a reported 350 pounds in 2006 and he was suspended for half a game that year for throwing a punch at a Central Michigan player. In 2007, he missed the entire season because of academics, later explaining that he was considering coming out early and had checked out mentally.

In 2008, humbled by his year off, Raji unleashed his vengeance on quarterbacks and running backs, finishing with 42 tackles, 16 for a loss, and eight sacks. He also dominated during Senior Bowl practices, where his stock began to soar.

Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, now an analyst for NFL Network, is convinced the test controversy won't hurt Raji on Saturday.

quot;I'd be surprised if he doesn't go in the top 10,quot; Casserly said on a conference call.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: mcabot@plaind.com, 216-999-4670


The Raji file

Position: Defensive tackle.

College: Boston College.

Ht: 6-1?. Wt: 337. 40 time: 5.12.

Birthdate: June 11, 1986.

Hometown: Washington Township, New Jersey.

Notable: After sitting out 2007 because of academic issues, Raji came back in 2008 to establish himself as the best defensive tackle in the country. Registered a career-high 42 tackles (22 solo), 16 behind the line of scrimmage and a team-high eight sacks. He also had three pressures and five passes deflected. The knock against him early on was that he was lazy, but he returned with renewed vigor after the year off. The Web site nfldraftscout.com describes him as a quot;powerful bull-rusher who can push the center / guard into the pocket. Rare combination of explosive burst and power.quot; Raji has been compared to New England's Vince Wilfork, Washington's Albert Haynesworth and former Pro Bowler Warren Sapp.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 25, 2009

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