Heading into the 2012 NFL Draft, I was as firm of a believer as any that Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner would be an impact player at the next level. So when the Oakland Raiders picked him in the fifth round, my assumption was that they were getting a huge steal.
Well, it didn’t turn out exactly as I had expected for Criner and his rookie season with the Raiders.
It took a while for Criner to finally crack the receiver rotation in Oakland despite the lack of experienced talent at the position. He didn’t see his first significant action until Week 4 and then continued to be irrelevant up until Week 10. After that, though, things took a turn for the better.
Up until Week 15, when Criner was sidelined due to a hip injury, the former Wildcat was a significant cog in the Raiders’ passing attack. He had finally started to display some of the natural receiving skills that he flashed in college and was asserting his presence among the young core of Oakland receivers.
While it wasn’t an exceptional season by any standard, Criner proved that he has the ability to contribute in the NFL. By season’s end, he had hauled in 16 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. He also showed an ability to make plays when they mattered most, catching seven passes during the fourth quarter, all of which went for first downs.
Now that Criner has a year under his belt, the Raiders will have high expectations for the 2012 fifth-round selection. The biggest thing moving forward for Criner will be learning the more-intricate aspects of the wide receiver position.
Throughout his rookie season, Criner struggled with learning the Raiders offense and running crisp, precise routes consistently. When he did get his opportunities, he often looked lost and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of being a part of an NFL offense. His first year under the bright lights is behind him, though, which should mean that those rookie jitters will be as well.
It’s going to be an uphill battle for Criner in 2013, who’s currently behind Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Derek Hagan on the depth chart. If he can dig himself out of that hole and find his way to consistent snaps, there’s plenty of reason to believe that he can start to unlock some of the potential that showed during his college career.
Criner has the potential to be a jump-ball receiver who specializes in scoring touchdowns. For now, he’ll just have to prove that he can mentally grasp an NFL offense. Just wait and watch.