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Bad news for draft projections for Arizona’s Foles, Criner

Nick Foles

Arizona's Nick Foles looks to flip the ball to a teammate against Oregon last season. Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

There is still a whole season to play — and then an important offseason of workouts — but the early NFL draft projections for the Arizona Wildcats’ biggest stars are all over the board.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper, at the end of the 2011 draft, rated Arizona senior Nick Foles as the No. 2 quarterback prospect, behind Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com told TucsonCitizen.com last month that he had talked to one NFL talent evaluator who loves Foles as a high second-round pick.

But Rang reported on CBSSports.com that Foles received a substantially lower grade at recent meetings of National Football Scouting personnel — who provide about half of the NFL teams with early information on prospects (for a price).

Wrote Rang:

“The most interesting news is that Arizona quarterback Nick Foles received a 5.0. A 5.0 is quite low considering that Foles has widely been speculated by the media as a potential first-round prospect in 2012. A 5.0, however, is roughly the equivalent of a seventh-round-UFA grade. Roughly 250 or so seniors earn a 5.0 or higher annually. National grades prospects on a 1.0-8.0 scale.

“By comparison, the top senior quarterbacks graded last year were Washington’s Jake Locker and Florida State’s Christian Ponder, who each received a grade of 6.7. Both wound up being top 12 selections in the 2011 draft.”

So, yeah, the projections are pretty wild right now for Foles — from potential first-rounder to undrafted free agent.

Not that any of that matter for his senior-year production and how he leads the Wildcats, who will be trying to navigate a tough early schedule and compete for the title in the new Pac-12 South.

What coach Mike Stoops wants to see is Foles being more decisive in the pocket; the quarterback tends to hold on to the ball too long under pressure. Stoops, noting the team’s number of sacks allowed last season, put part of the blame on Foles.

“You can’t take 32 sacks,” he said. “There’s no question some of that is on Nick. You have to know when to get rid of the football. You have to know when to give up on a play. There is nothing wrong with that; punting is OK.

“Taking a negative yardage play — we’re not good enough to do that. When we didn’t play our best, you look at what we did on first-and-10. It wasn’t very good. So we need to be a more efficient team, and a lot of that is going to fall on Nick. …

“He’s going to have to play efficiently and smart all the way through. I think he can do that.”

As for Arizona senior receiver Juron Criner, NFLDraftScout.com reported that Criner was given a grade of 5.3 by National Football Scouting — and that number translates to a sixth- or seventh-round selection.

The big question about Criner is his straight-line speed. He acknowledged in a Q&A with TucsonCitizen.com last month that he hasn’t been known as a speed burner and that he hasn’t been timed in the 40-yard dash in years.

He projected that he wouldn’t run anything slower than 4.50 seconds, although scouts will want to see that before firming up the kind of second-round projections that seem to be more in line with Criner’s production and excellent all-around game.

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