First sign that a new regime has taken over in Oakland, the play making wide receiver selected on draft day doesn’t have sub 4.4 speed. Juron Criner will never be confused with a burner, but that’s not his game and it’s not how the Raiders want to use him. He is the perfect compliment to the speedy and dynamic Denarius Moore. Criner’s big body and exceptional ball skills offer defenses a completely different challenge than the opposition is used to vs. the Raiders, benefits are coming in short order.
Criner was all the buzz throughout the off season as he tore up workouts and training camp practices. Carson Palmer and Dennis Allen went out of their way to praise the rookie on several different occasions. He won’t wow you in shorts and a t-shirt, but get him on the field and the second coming of Anquan Boldin in his prime is on display. Big, physical, tough, excellent hands, superb body control, phenomenal ball skills. As so many in the NFL have trended towards raw speed and getting away from a Criner-type of wide receiver the new Raiders regime zigged when others zagged. Like anything in the NFL, it’s all circular, and eventually the big bodied wide receivers will be en vogue again. Expect Criner to be that poster boy.
He was a once highly regarded prospect, but chose to stay in school after the 2010 season and saw his stock plummet in large part due to the lack of speed and some undisclosed off the field issues. Fact is, on the field, he produced just like he did before. Every quarterback wants one reliable bail-out option and that’s what Criner was to college teammate Nick Foles. When the play broke down Foles looked for Criner and asked him to make the play. Usually, Criner complied. Break away speed doesn’t mean as much when your ball skills are so much better than the competition, and that’s what Criner thrived on. Defenses knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop him. The offense grinded to a halt when he was off the field, which is always a big sign of how valuable a player actually is on the field.
Criner has seen his involvement in the offense grow more and more since the Raiders bye and as they have faded out of playoff contention. His snap count has steadily risen at the expense of under performing veteran Derek Hagan and fellow rookie Rod Streater, who is more of a deep threat. This is evident in his increasing targets as they topped out at 10 vs. the Browns last week. He was the same ole’ Criner in that game, quietly working the short and intermediate game and being Palmer’s safety valve.
If the Raiders were more efficient on offense and could get to the red zone more frequently Criner would be able to display his plus red zone abilities, too. Perhaps that will happen down the stretch, but more than likely this is something to wait for in 2013 and hope some adrenaline is infused in this stale offense. Regardless, now is the time to cash in dynasty leagues, before the primetime showcase. Redraft owners can put him on the ignore list for this year, but keep tabs on him as someone to back pocket for the late rounds draft day in August. This kid’s got the game to breakout soon.