The “From Reality to Fantasy” series of posts take an in-depth look at young NFL players. Partnering with my co-host Fantasy Sports Analyst, Dr. Roto from the NFL RedZone Report, you will get my perspective on the “reality” of each player profiled, meaning how the player played in college and how I think he’ll transition to the NFL game. Dr. Roto will then give his Fantasy Football spin on how to look at the player from a fantasy team owners perspective. Doc will tell you where these guys should be drafted in your fantasy league, what type leagues gives the most value on them, and how soon they should contribute. Enjoy as we cover every aspect from Reality to Fantasy on these NFL players.
The Oakland Raiders love those flashy, speedster wide receivers. That’s why I was surprised when they were the team that stopped Juron Criner’s slide at the bottom of the fifth round of this year’s draft. Juron ran a 4.68 forty at this year’s scouting combine. Criner also didn’t come in at the 6’4 size that he was listed at in college. None of this changed his game film though.
Criner had some of the biggest hands out of all of the wide receivers (10 1/2). He’s a big body wide receiver that snags everything and then aggressively tries to get as much yards after the catch as possible. The Raiders have attempted to find this type of guy in their offense for the last few seasons. They tried with TJ Houshmandzadeh, Chaz Schilens, and Louis Murphy to name a few. Between injuries and age issues, they weren’t the answer. Oddly enough, they selected Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree a few years ago and Crabtree would have been the perfect fit. Heyward-Bey was another one of those speed guys that lacked overall talent. To his credit, Darrius looked much improved last year.
Carson Palmer seemed to build some chemistry with Jacoby Ford early on last season, before his injury. Where Palmer and Ford left off, Denarius Moore and Palmer picked right up. Ford and Moore seem to be on the same page with Palmer and should be two of his top targets. Carson will need some size and reliable hands to go with this shorter, speed combo of wideouts. Fortunately, Criner can step in day one and fill that void this team created when they decided to pass on Crabtree.
The risk to Criner is that the new coaching staff may prefer to go with the veterans of Heyward-Bey and Murphy. Even if they try the veteran route early, it’s only a matter of time before Criner’s skill set forces their hand. Oakland’s three best receivers are Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore, and Juron Criner. If they get these three the reps, Carson Palmer will be able to exploit their talents. Moore and Ford can stretch the field. Moore is more route developed but Ford is a speedster that can take a screen to the house with unmatched speed. Darren McFadden will be incredible in the new zone system and everyone will know who Taiwan Jones is before the season is over. Criner is the missing piece. He’s not your typical possession receiver. He can be the team’s red zone threat, he’s not afraid of the middle, and his most important attribute is the way he immediately looks to get up field after each catch. His run after the catch on slants will be Brandon Marshall like.
Don’t let his late fifth round draft status scare you off. Neither Moore, Ford, or Murphy were drafted before day 3 of their draft either. The best receivers will play in Oakland and I have to believe that Palmer has input on this decision. After a summer of watching insane catches by Criner, I’m sure Palmer will be backing him along with Ford and Moore in the meeting room.
Dr. Roto’s Fantasy Football Spin
As you all should know by now, I am a big fan of my podcast partner, Jayson Braddock. No one watches more film than Jayson and by the time the NFL draft rolls around, his word is gold. So if Jayson says that he is a Criner fan, I am buying. However, Criner is like a piece of fruit that won’t be ripe for about two years. Very seldom do we see rookie WRs in the NFL bust through and have great seasons. For every A.J. Green, there are about 25 other guys who I can’t even name by the end of the season (Limas Sweed anyone?).
Do I think Criner will make the Raiders? Yes. Do I think he can be a good WR4? Sure. However, there are three other guys way in front of him on the depth chart. Darrius Heyward-Bey is just starting to play like an early round draft pick; Jacoby Ford has all-pro skills that no one saw last year because he could not stay healthy; Denarius Moore was last year’s breakout receiver who still has much to prove. Don’t forget that running backs Darren McFadden, Mike Goodson, and Taiwan Jones can all catch out of the backfield as well. What does this mean for Criner? It means he better look good in a baseball cap because he won’t be seeing much of the field. Because of Jayson, I will probably take Criner in the last round of my draft. That way I can take some of the credit for drafting him if he does get the chance.