Former Arizona Wildcats receiver Juron Criner boosted his draft stock during the week of Senior Bowl practices — not just for making the kind of difficult catches UA fans fondly recall but for quieting some of chatter about him off the field.
“I was impressed by Criner,” said NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang.
“I thought he had a heck of an opportunity here, and I never saw him drop a ball. I saw him make some spectacular plays. I don’t know if I would say he was the best receiver there, but he would definitely be in the conversation.”
Criner’s draft stock took a hit in the preseason when a report surfaced in the summer that his 2011 season was in jeopardy for “undisclosed medical reasons.” That the UA didn’t immediately comment made it all the more mysterious.
It turns out that Criner was fine for the start of fall camp, and his summer absence was explained by coach Mike Stoops as being for “personal and family issues,” including his mom’s illness. Stoops also said Criner hasn’t always had the best support system around him.
Whether there is more to Criner’s off-field story or not, it appears NFL scouts seem initially satisfied with what they see and hear.
“Everybody I talked to — NFL guys, not agents or other media members — basically said unless there is something else out there they don’t know about, the off-field stuff isn’t going to dramatically impact his stock,” Rang said.
“From everybody I talked to, he’s a good kid, he’s just a private kid. I don’t know if he trusted a lot of people around him.”
Largely because of those potential off-field concerns, NFLDraftScout.com and other draft sites had Criner as a late-round prospect heading into the week of practices in Mobile, Ala. He didn’t measure up at the weigh-in — he is 6-2 1/8, not the 6-4 as listed by UA — but then went out and made all the catches.
Even more impressive, Rang said, was that Criner was working about the South team’s cornerbacks, which might be the strongest position group at the Senior Bowl.
“He was one of the few receivers to consistently make plays about them,” Rang said.
“He goes up and gets the football so well and knows how to use his body to shield defenders from the ball. He turned some heads. A lot of the receivers here who had bigger names struggled. He did not.”
Criner needed to show at Senior Bowl practices that he had the ability to get off the line against press coverage — which he rarely saw at Arizona — and that he had the kind of separation speed that scouts want to see in an NFL wideout.
That latter part is still an issue. Criner’s 40-time at the NFL Combine next month could still sway his stock either way.
For now, Rang said, he would upgrade Criner to a second- or third-round pick — definitely a top 100 prospect, like his former teammate, quarterback Nick Foles. Foles, who has been throwing passes to Criner all week, has received more modest reviews at the Senior Bowl.
(Criner is at No. 96 and Foles at 64 on Gil Brandt’s Hot 100 on NFL.com.)
Mike Tanier, of Shutdown Corner, a Yahoo! Sports blog:
Criner, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound possession receiver from the University of Arizona, has probably helped his stock more than any other player during Senior Bowl practices this week. He was projected as a late-round pick by most experts before practices started. He has probably worked his way up to the middle rounds.
Criner does not have breakaway speed, but he appears to have the rest of the package. “I’m very agile for a man my size,” Criner said after Thursday’s practice. That agility was evident earlier in the week, when he made smooth cuts and adjusted to poorly thrown balls in live practices. Criner has also been demonstrating good hands and pass-catching technique, and he looks more fluid and comfortable running routes than some of the other big receivers on the South squad.