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The Definitive Juron Criner Article, Subtitle: Don’t Overlook Juron Criner!

Criner1Setting aside the popular Oakland Raiders Offense = Grease Fire analogy for a moment, it seems to me like there could be plenty of fantasy value to be had among the Raiders skill players.  Aside from Darren McFadden, not a single Raider is coming off the board before the 11th round.  At those prices someone is bound to outperform their ADP, which is why I’ve been trying to keep tabs on all of the Oakland wideouts.  James Goldstein wrote a great piece illustrating how Denarius Moore is a great value.  But, reading this SB Nation article on Juron Criner by Levi Damien the other day, I was intrigued by the assertion that Criner is suited for the Red Zone role.  So, I decided to use our Apps to see if it made sense.

Whenever I’m researching a relatively inexperienced WR I love starting with the College Receiver Comparison App and applying the Eric Decker Factor criteria developed by Jon Moore: 10 yards per target, 30% market share of yards, 40% of TDs, and a Red Zone TD rate above 30%.  The app is pre-populated with four receivers (see below) who score favorably in all four categories.  If you plug Criner in alongside those guys and flip over to the Heat Map tab, you can quickly see that while he doesn’t quite meet the YPT or Market Share thresholds, he’s among the best in Red Zone TD Rate:

CrinerVsBigFour

And while the far left column shows he had a healthy total number of targets in his final collegiate season (2nd most at 106 behind Hopkins), I still like to verify that he didn’t have some ridiculously small Red Zone target number to achieve that high efficiency, so I go to the CFB WR Stat Finder App.  I set the year to 2011, defined Red Zone by narrowing the Yards from End Zone to 1 – 20, widened the Defense Quality band out to 50 – 100, dropped the minimum number of targets to 10, and sorted on TD Rate.  (I used 10 targets because that would be right around 1 Red Zone target per Arizona tilt in 2011.)  Even though Criner missed one game in 2011, he had 13 RZ targets and caught 7 of them, putting him inside the top 10 for 2011 RZ efficiency.  It’s also worth noting that for the top 50 matching WRs given by my search, Criner’s targets were about average and his efficiency was well above average:

Average Median Criner
Targets 14.7 13 13
TD Rate 0.418 0.38 0.54

Next, I decided to see how Criner stacked up against the rest of the Oakland pass-catchers (TEs included).  Since they’re all fairly young and inexperienced, I think it makes sense to look at their college production on the Heat Map (the more NFL experience a player has the more inclined I’d be to look at his pro production instead of what he did in college).  First the non-rookies:

 CrinerVsOAKNon-Rook

And just to make sure we’re not overlooking some TD-phenom rookie (Nick Kasa is not available in this data for the moment) here is Criner next to the first-year guys:

 CrinerVsOAKRook

The only one of that whole bunch to best Criner at Red Zone efficiency was Denarius Moore, who caught 5 of 9 RZ targets in 2010.  None of the Oakland pass-catchers topped Criner’s 39% market share of TDs.

Now, let’s look at a table of their athletic measurables:

Name Height Weight 40 Vert Broad
Juron Criner 6’3″ 224 4.68 38 9’8″
Denarius Moore 6’0″ 194 4.45 36 9’10”
Rod Streater 6’2″ 193 4.46 37.5 11’01”
Jacoby Ford 5’9″ 186 4.28
Conner Vernon 6’0″ 196 4.68 32.5 10’5″
Brice Butler 6’3″ 214 4.37 39 10’9″

Damien notes in the article that “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.”  It’s an astute observation about Criner’s lack of straight line speed and something that breaks from the Raiders’ customary practice of drafting guys with ridiculous forty times.

At RotoViz we generally don’t like WRs who are slow, but Damien has a point – you don’t have to be fast to win in the red zone.  Being big and adept at catching touchdowns in college will do, and Criner certainly has both of those things going for him.  He’s tied for the tallest and is only beaten on his vertical by Brice Butler (who you can see from the Heat Map is not very good in the Red Zone).  He also weighs the most, and as Frank demonstrates; red zone efficient WRs are larger on average.

I haven’t done any work on this yet, but I have a hunch that hand size is positively correlated with catch rate.  For some anecdotal evidence, DeAndre Hopkins has 10” hands (which is a full inch bigger than the average wideout in the 2012 class).  You can see what those mits look like in this post, and the impressive catching tricks they allow Hopkins to perform in this popular YouTube video.  Criner has gigantic 10.5” hands, which is bigger than any wideout in the 2013 draft class, and a full 1.5” bigger than average.

Though it’s hard to predict exactly what the Raiders offense will look like in 2012 when they go Carson Palmer-less under new OC Greg Olson, we do know there will be some holes to fill amongst the pass catchers.  Jon Moore does a great job detailing all of the snaps lost from the departures of DHB and Hagan, as well as their top Red Zone target: Brandon Myers.  Using pro-football-reference.com here are the Raiders’ 2012 RZ Targets and efficiency:

Player Targets Rec Rec % TD RZ TD Rt
Brandon Myers 13 8 61.5% 4 30.8%
Denarius Moore 12 8 66.7% 4 33.3%
Rod Streater 11 3 27.3% 1 9.1%
Darrius Heyward-Bey 10 6 60.0% 2 20.0%
Marcel Reece 7 5 71.4% 1 14.3%
Juron Criner 5 1 20.0% 1 20.0%
Darren McFadden 4 3 75.0% 1 25.0%
Richard Gordon 3 1 33.3% 1 33.3%
Derek Hagan 2 0 0.0% 0 0.0%
David Ausberry 2 1 50.0% 0 0.0%
Mike Goodson 1 1 100.0% 0 0.0%
Totals 70 37 52.9% 15 21.4%

If Ciner absorbed all of the DHB and Hagan Red Zone targets and one-third of the Myers targets, he’d be at about 16 targets.  Dropping his college RZ conversion efficiency rate from 54% to 33% that would give him in the neighborhood of 5 TDs, just from Red Zone targets.  That’s not including any damage he could do as a downfield receiver (sure most of that goes to Moore, but is an extra 1 or 2 TDs from long passes that far fetched?  After all, he did do this and this last year.)  That’s also not including any extra targets he may steal from Streater.  And if his efficiency rate climbs even higher than 33%?  We could be looking at a double-digit TD guy.

Is it likely Criner scores 10 TDs?  Maybe not.  Is it possible?  I say absolutely.  And all you have to spend on Criner is the last pick in your draft.

 

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