After their second day of practice in last week’s minicamp, coach Dennis Allen singled out Juron Criner as a player the Raiders are hoping to spotlight. Said Allen, “That’s really where you see the most growth in players from year one to year two. They’ve had these experiences. … A guy like Juron Criner is a guy that needs to become more involved. He’s a guy that we’re looking forward to kind of step up and fill a role for us.”
A fifth round pick in 2012, Criner was all but invisible last season, catching just 16 passes of 26 targets for 151 yards and one touchdown. In total, Criner would see 169 snaps over 12 games, the fewest among Raiders’ receivers. Criner would garner 29 only targets — also the fewest among his fellow wideouts. A strong majority of both Criner’s production and snaps came over a two-week period during the middle of the season, but petered out considerably afterwards — as illustrated below:
Of those 16 receptions, Criner would mostly take advantage of lesser competition — except for in Week 12, when he would dominate a Cincinnati secondary that would finish the season in the top-10, according to ProFootball Focus.
v. Tracy Porter (Wk 4): Two targets for two receptions and 29 yards — 14 after-the-catch.
v. Derek Cox (Wk 7): One target for zero receptions.
v. Stanford Routt (Wk 8): One target for zero receptions.
v. Courtney Upshaw (Wk 10): One target for one reception and 13 yards — 15 after-the-catch.
v. Corey Graham (Wk 10): One target for one reception and 13 yards — 13 after-the-catch.
v. Malcolm Jenkins (Wk 11): Two targets for two catches and 20 yards — two after-the-catch.
v. Patrick Robinson (Wk 11): One target for zero receptions.
v. Jabari Greer (Wk 11): One target for zero receptions.
v. Johnny Patrick (Wk 11): One target for one reception and three yards — -5 after-the-catch.
v. Elbert Mack (Wk 11): One target for zero receptions.
v. Terence Newman (Wk 12): One target for zero receptions.
v. Adam Jones (Wk 12): Two targets for two receptions and 17 yards — seven after-the-catch.
v. Leon Hall (Wk 12): One target for one reception and six yards — three after-the-catch.
v. Eric Hagg (Wk 13): Two targets for one reception and three yards.
v. Buster Skrine (Wk 13): Two targets for one reception and seven yards — six after-the-catch.
v. Joe Haden (Wk 13): One target for one reception and 8 yards — five after-the-catch.
v. Sheldon Brown (Wk 13): Four targets for zero receptions.
v. Kaluka Maiava (Wk 13): One target for one reception and eight yards — ten after-the-catch.
v. Tony Carter (Wk 14): Two targets for two receptions and 24 yards — nine after-the-catch.
v. Champ Bailey (Wk 14): One target for zero receptions.
The Future of Juron
Criner isn’t very fast, running just under 4.70 in his 40-yard dash. However, as Levi Damien points out, speed isn’t necessarily a determinate of success for wide receivers. As evidence, we need only to look across the bay (well, across and south, I guess). Anquan Boldin is notoriously slow, and yet, using his size and strength, he’s able to out-muscle smaller/weaker defensive backs. And, at 6’3″ and 211 lbs, Criner certainly fits the mold of a taller Boldin. The Raiders just need to utilize as such.
Boldin makes hey while lined up against smaller, nickel-corners in the slot. This is where Criner ought to be, and where the Raiders have a void to fill — even if it’s a marginal one.
With the loss of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Derek Hagan, the Raiders will have 141 snaps in the slot to fill. Though Denarius Moore is often utilized there, it would behoove the Raiders to tryout Criner in that position, if only because Moore didn’t produce much from the slot last year anyway.
In 242 routes in the slot, Moore garnered only 36 targets, gaining just 1.27 yard-per-pass-route, which ranks 34th among eligible receivers. Meanwhile, Criner faired much better, averaging a team-best 1.79 yards-per-pass-route.
I’m not sure how Dennis Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Olsen plan on getting Criner “more involved,” but if they won’t him to step up, the role he should be stepping up into is that of the slot-receiver.