In minicamps last year, rookie round five pick Juron Criner took the team by storm. He instantly looked like a steal in the fifth round, catching everything in sight and dominating over defensive backs. But once training camp hit, that all changed.
Even with the new rookie cap, the Raiders couldn't get his contract signed before camp which had him showing up late to join his new teammates in Napa. In fact, he was the last of all non-first round picks to sign his contract.
Coming in just under the wire for the first practice, he began training camp buried on the depth chart. He would remain buried on the depth chart through much of the season. In fact, he was inactive for four games last season and in six others, he didn't have a single catch. He would finish the season with 16 catches for a total of 151 yards and 1 touchdown.
The team is hoping to get him far more involved next season.
"That's really where you see the most growth in players, from year one to year two," said Dennis Allen. "They've had these experiences, they've had a chance to learn from a full season and you anticipate them growing and developing and continuing to get better. A guy like Juron Criner is a guy that needs to become more involved. He's a guy that we're looking for to kind of step up and fill a role for us."
The role they wanted from him last season was that of red zone threat. The reason Criner dropped into the fifth round of the draft was because he ran an incredibly slow 4.68 40-yard dash time. He isn't going to be burning many defensive backs in the NFL so where he makes his hay is by allowing his quarterback to put the ball in the air and let him go up and get it.
This is not an entirely uncommon role among some successful NFL receivers. Anquan Boldin has made a career out of simply outmuscling his opposition for his catches and receiving yards. The Raiders may have vision of Criner doing similar things.
Matt Flynn had said last week that he would prefer to put the ball in the air and let his playmakers make a play on the ball rather than throw it away if he can. At the time, it was Denarius Moore and Marcel Reece who had made a couple nice plays on the ball. Criner has shown he can be a reliable set of hands in jump ball situations. That's his bread and butter and the Raiders would very much like to take advantage of it if they can.