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Arizona’s Stoops on nice run of NFL talent; Foles, Criner next?

Juron Criner

Juron Criner catches this pass from Nick Foles for a 52-yard touchdown against Arizona State last season. Photo by Christian Petersen, Getty Images Sport

One thing you can say about Arizona coach Mike Stoops: He has upgraded the talent level with the Wildcats.

That should be fairly obvious with three consecutive bowl seasons, the current five-game losing streak notwithstanding.

But Stoops also is producing steady NFL talent, as Arizona is in the midst of a streak of producing a top 50 player in the draft for five consecutive seasons.

Here is how it breaks down:

2007 — RB Chris Henry (second round, 50th overall)

2008 — CB Antoine Cason (first round, 27th overall)

2009 — OT Eben Britton (second round, 39th overall)

2010 — TE Rob Gronkowski (second round, 42nd overall)

2011 — DE Brooks Reed (second round, 42nd overall)

This is the first time in Arizona history that it has produced at least a second-round pick in five consecutive drafts.

And next year could make six.

Senior quarterback Nick Foles and senior receiver Juron Criner appear to be, at least from this preseason distance,n reasonable possibilities for the second round.

We told you recently that NFLDraftScout.com — whose work can be found at CBSSports.com — rates Foles right now as the 41st-best prospect for the 2012 draft.

Based on previous conversations with NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang, that seemed to be a tad high for Foles. But Rang confirmed in an interview Thursday that he thinks his organization’s ranking of Foles at 41 is fair.

“I have talked to a couple of scouts and there are people who really like him,” Rang said.

“I still have some early reservation about his arm strength. He has good accuracy down field when he’s throwing the ball with touch. But when he has to zip it, it seems to me that it sails a little bit. Some of that is he just doesn’t have to do it very often.

“But in all fairness to Nick, he certainly has the size you’re looking for. You know he is going to have absolutely ridiculous numbers because of the system. He is one of those guys who I hope will take advantage of the Senior Bowl opportunity because that is when we’re going to find who he is in a pro-style offense.”

As for Criner, Rang said one NFL personnel man told him Criner “is getting a second-round grade.” Rang added that he’s “not quite as high on Criner as other people seem to be.”

Like many of the other tall, big receivers in the senior class — guys like Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller – Criner’s postseason 40-yard dash time is going to be critical in terms of final draft positioning.

Rang said he would put Criner in the second- to third-round range for now.

“When I watch them, I see Foles and Criner as good prospects whose production make them seem like great prospects, and I don’t know that they are,” Rang said.

But, together, they give Arizona a reasonable chance of turning out another top 50 draft pick under Stoops.

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