Juron Criner looks like an NFL wide receiver.
At 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, the former Arizona Wildcats standout has the body and speed that would make him an inviting target in opposing secondaries. And, at Arizona, he was a pass-catching phenom, catching 82 and 75 passes over his final two years for 22 touchdowns and 2,289 yards.
But so far in his two NFL seasons with the Raiders, Criner hasn’t produced for a team that was eager for him to make a contribution.
The fifth-round pick in 2012 had 16 catches as a rookie, for 151 yards and a TD; then, last season, he was hampered by an injury and played in just one game, catching three passes for 32 yards.
Now, however, it appears Criner may be on the verge of taking a big step forward.
Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group wrote after Monday’s organized team activities (OTAs) that Criner “looked like the best receiver on the field” while making several catches against tight coverage.
It’s possible that Criner knows it’s time to produce. Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group noted recently that Criner likely knows he’s in a “sink or swim situation” in his third year, fighting for a roster spot against veteran James Jones (acquired from the Packers), Greg Little (acquired from the Browns) and Raiders holdovers such as Denarius Moore, Rod Streater .Andre Holmes and Brice Butler, plus undrafted free-agent rookies Noel Grigsby and Mike Davis.
If Criner wants to remain with the Raiders and earn playing time, he’ll need to open some eyes on the coaching staff during the remainder of OTAs, minicamp and training camp.
As Marc Sessler of NFL.com noted Tuesday, it’s not a surprise that Criner would shine in non-contact work in OTAs. He’s a physically impressive receiver.
But he’ll need to continue to flash good hands and crisp route running in July and August in full pads, helmet and against defenders who can get physical with him.
In the past, head coach Dennis Allen has liked what he’s seen from Criner in some practices and games. But he’s also seen Criner make mistakes, too, and he’s now looking for more consistency from him.
“The players really determine who plays,” Allen said last season when talking about Criner. "(Criner) is an athletic guy, he’s a big guy, he’s got good hands. But he’s got to be able to do it on a more conistent basis.”