Juron Criner: The biggest steal of the 2012 NFL Draft?

By Gil Alcaraz IV

It was a surprise to watch former Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Juron Criner slide all the way down to the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft before finally being snagged by the Oakland Raiders.

During my pre-draft evaluations, I saw Criner as a second-round talent, possessing highlight-catch hands and the precision route running that has become a lost art in today’s NFL. And yet, he fell all the way to No. 168 overall. The Raiders, however, are ready to reap the rewards of everyone else’s oversight.

When the Raiders traded wide receiver Louis Murphy to the Carolina Panthers the other day, it was no coincidence. They sent Murphy packing because they already know what they have in Criner: a starter.

So why did Criner slip in the draft if he’s so talented? Let’s take a look.

Heading into the draft, Criner earned the label “possession receiver” due to the concern about his lack of elite speed. Some receivers don’t need 4.3 speed to create separation, though. In the case of Criner, the former Wildcat uses precisely-run routes and an impressive burst off of the snap to put defenders on their heels.

Another question mark that arose was his ability to make plays after the catch. Although Criner consistently found ways to pick up YAC yards, his lack of that “make-you-miss” quality was a bit off-putting. He didn’t break too many tackles and struggled against physical cornerbacks.

During his college career, Criner rarely faced press coverage and picked up a large chunk of his yardage with screens and comebacks. Both of those will be things of the past at the next level, and he’s going to have to adjust accordingly.

Don’t be fooled by these deficiencies, though; Criner is the real deal.

Using the aforementioned route running, Criner makes space for his quarterback to get him the ball. He rarely rounds routes and uses his body movement to bait the coverage into making the wrong move. His sneaky agility gives him the ability to make sharp cuts and he has the fluidity that you don’t often see from a player of his stature.

Even though he spent his entire career catching balls from the often-inaccurate Nick Foles, Criner managed a whopping 209 receptions for 2,859 yards and 32 touchdowns. Despite Foles’ lack of placement skills, Criner still shined because of his ability to adjust to passes. Boasting an enormous catch radius, he was a human highlight reel with the amount of ridiculous, acrobatic catches that he hauled in. As long as the balls were within reach, he was going to find a way to bring it down. To put it in perspective: one-handers were routine for Criner.

Oh, and his 6’3’’, 221-pound frame is pretty helpful in allowing him to box out and highpoint the ball over most cornerbacks.

Criner might not be the prototypical NFL wide receiver. But what he lacks in speed and explosiveness, he makes up for with technique and pure desire to make the catch. He made a middle-of-the-road quarterback like Foles look like a star; imagine what he can do for a starting NFL quarterback like Carson Palmer.

Follow Gil Alcaraz IV on Twitter.

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