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Packers choose Raji

UConn's Brown goes to Colts

B.J. Raji is a rare blend of size and athleticism. B.J. Raji is a rare blend of size and athleticism. (File/Michael Dwyer/Ap)
By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / April 26, 2009
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Nestled among a houseful of family and friends in Washington Township, N.J., his 6-foot-2-inch, 332-pound frame resting comfortably, B.J. Raji was sporting a grin from ear to ear.

Dressed in a bright yellow T-shirt, Raji was on the phone with the Green Bay Packers, who made the massive Boston College nose tackle the ninth pick of yesterday's NFL draft.

He let out a sigh of relief, the weight of a sometimes frustrating last month or so lifted off his broad shoulders. His denials of a positive drug test at the NFL Combine that proved to be untrue. The questions of his character.

So now, Raji can focus on putting his rare package of size and athleticism to work at Lambeau Field.

"I just feel so honored to be selected by such a great franchise, with such a great tradition," said Raji in a conference call.

A few hours later, his fellow anchor on the BC defensive line, tackle Ron Brace, went to the Patriots in the second round (40th overall).

With the Packers implementing a 3-4 defensive front under the direction of new coordinator Dom Capers, and the organization placing a high value on size in the trenches, Raji's selection was a good fit.

"He's a very powerful, explosive defensive interior lineman that has the ability to play the run, the power to be a pass rusher from the inside," said Packers general manager Ted Thompson.

Thompson dismissed any concerns regarding the character of Raji, who was academically ineligible for the 2007 season.

"He's very engaging, bright, and articulate," said Thompson.

Raji now looks back at 2007 as a year in which he improved his focus, both athletically and academically, and worked on his playing technique every day in practice on the scout team.

He is BC's second top-10 selection in the last two years, joining quarterback Matt Ryan, chosen third overall last year by the Falcons, and the program's first defensive player taken in the first round since end Mathias Kiwanuka in 2006.

Raji chose to forgo a trip to draft central in New York, instead spending the day with "the people that have helped me get to this point, they have made a lot of sacrifices," he said. "I felt that this was the best way for them to enjoy [this day]."

Connecticut running back Donald Brown became the Huskies' first-ever first-round pick when the Colts tabbed him with the 27th overall selection. The 5-10, 210-pound Brown churned out 2,083 yards and 18 touchdowns last fall, capped by a 261-yard performance against Buffalo in the International Bowl. Linebacker Alfred Fincher of Norwood (Saints, third round in 2005) was previously the program's highest selection.

Colts president Bill Polian called Brown "a scintillating player who catches the ball and blocks. It's a good day any time you get a game-breaker."

With the departure of Dominic Rhodes to the Bills in free agency, Brown will likely back up Joseph Addai in the backfield.

UConn was just getting started. Cornerback Darius Butler went to the Patriots in the second round (41st overall), before the Giants chose 6-6, 310-pound left tackle William Beatty at No. 60, a late bloomer who impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl with his athleticism. With the next to last pick of Round 2, the NFC champion Cardinals selected UConn outside linebacker Cody Brown (6-2, 244).

"I'm relieved and thrilled," said UConn coach Randy Edsall in a conference call. "I look up on the board and USC has five picks [in the first two rounds] and UConn has [four]. Just a great day."

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