Knowing depth and consistency was a weakness for the Oakland Raiders’ receiving corps last season, GM Reggie McKenzie added former Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones to the roster. In Jones, he has a veteran leader, a very solid, reliable target for new QB Matt Schaub, and a mentor to Oakland’s stable of young, explosive, but highly inconsistent receivers. McKenzie has also brought in UDFA’s like Noel Grigsby and Mike Davis, and also claimed Greg Little off waivers from the Cleveland Browns – a head scratching move given the focus on improving the consistency of Oakland’s receivers this offseason. But for the first time in a while, the shelves are stocked, and wide receiver is one of the Raiders’ deepest positions.
The trouble for Oakland’s stable of receivers is that if your name isn’t Jones or Rod Streater, you are battling to be Schaub’s third option in the team’s passing attack. Though, depending on how TE’s Mychal Rivera, Nick Kasa, and David Ausberry are utilized, they might not even be the third option.
With the depth and talent on the roster, the “second tier” group of receivers on the roster – Little, Denarius Moore, and Andre Holmes – need to find a way to make themselves stand out, make the coaches take notice, and work their way into a more prominent role in the offense.
And according to one Bay Area writer, there is one receiver who is standing head and shoulders above all others during these early days of OTA’s – Juron Criner. Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group reported that third year receiver Criner, “… far and away stood out as the best receiver on the field.”
Criner wasn’t even an afterthought in Oakland’s offense last season, playing in just one game, logging zero starts, and three receptions for a paltry 32 yards. For his two seasons in Silver and Black, Criner has amassed a whopping total of 19 receptions for 183 yards.
Though he suffered a shoulder injury that landed him on IR last season, it is believed that Criner’s inconsistency and a number of dropped passes led to him falling out of favor with Oakland’s coaching staff, and seeing far more time on the bench than on the field. HC Dennis Allen last season noted that Criner needed to be far more consistent in practices.
It seems that he has taken Allen’s words to heart as Criner seems to be putting on a show for the coaching staff and for his fellow wideouts. His early OTA performances have thus far overshadowed even Jones and Streater.
It’s an encouraging sign to be sure, but it’s worth noting that it’s still very early in Oakland’s offseason program yet. Criner isn’t competing against live opponents, and he’s looking good in non-contact drills. But that he’s been able to consistently hang on to the ball, make a number of difficult catches, and finally seems to be developing some chemistry with Oakland’s QB’s, seems to bode well for Criner — and for the team. But he will need to continue playing like he has and continue to improve to convince the Raiders’ coaching staff that he deserves to have more passes thrown his way than Holmes, Moore, or Little.
At 6’3”, 224 pounds, Criner could provide Schaub with a big target – something he’s comfortable with from his days working with Andre Johnson in the Houston Texans system – especially down in the red zone where the Raiders desperately need to improve. He has the size and speed the Raiders can make great use of, and he’s definitely turning some heads so far this offseason. If he can continue improving his game by focusing on his consistency and skills, we very well may be seeing more of Juron Criner this season and possibly a lot less of somebody else, like Moore or Holmes.