Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji’s retirement — or hiatus — announcement on Monday took a lot of people by surprise.
Raji decided to hang it up at age 29 and although he hadn’t played at a high level in years, big, quick defensive tackles don’t grow on trees. If Raji wanted to continue playing, he certainly could have.
In fact, Raji said in his retirement announcement that he had an offer on the table from the Packers.
All that being said, the vast majority of the reactions to Raji’s announcement painted a much different picture than the one based in reality.
Based upon the national coverage of the story and the distraught nature of most Packers fans, you’d think a five-time All Pro just retired in the prime of his career.
That was not the case, ladies and gentlemen.
Raji was never an All Pro. In fact, he made just one Pro Bowl in his seven-year career.
That came in 2011, when, you could argue, Raji only made the Pro Bowl on name recognition. Or, perhaps he made it because he wasn’t elected — when he should have been — the year before.
At best, Raji turned in a solid, yet unspectacular career. At worst, he was a marketable underachiever.
Raji lasted seven seasons with the Packers, losing the entirety of one of those seasons (2014) to a torn bicep. In the six seasons Raji played, he totaled 151 tackles and 11 sacks. That averages out to 25 tackles and slightly less than two sacks per season.
Raji’s only borderline dominant season came in his second year (2010), when he set career highs with 39 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Those high-water marks bested his next best season-long tallies by 13 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Those are wide margins for a defensive tackle.
Raji quickly regressed as a pass rusher after that 2010 season. The last year he put regular or semi-regular pressure on the quarterback was 2011, when he recorded three sacks. Raji did not bring down a quarterback again until 2015, when he registered a half a sack.
Among people who know football, Raji’s supporters would tell you he (mostly) did his job when he played in the middle of the Packers defense. Not even they would defend his play as a defensive end, a position he recorded a measly 17 tackles at in 2013.
The supporters would say Raji’s job wasn’t to rack up stats, but to occupy blockers and push the pocket.
The detractors would point out that Raji was a first-round draft pick. That he was brought in to be a disruptive force and, other than 2010, wasn’t that at all. He was just a guy.
Neither camp would tell you B.J. Raji was a great player and neither would suggest the Green Bay Packers can’t replace him.
In fact, there are two players already on their roster who can replace Raji.
The primary candidate is Letroy Guion, who enjoyed a career year in 2014 (32 tackles, 3.5 sacks) when he replaced an injured Raji at the nose tackle position. The other candidate is Mike Pennel, who has been cast as a defensive end thus far in his career.
If he can straighten up — Pennel was suspended for the first four games of 2016 — Pennel is an ascending player. He’s just 24 and at 6-4, 332, has a body type suited to playing the nose.
The Packers will most certainly find a way to survive without B.J. Raji.
They may even be better off.