Jae C. Hong / AP
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.
One projection generously has wide receiver Juron Criner being selected in the first round of next week’s NFL Draft. A majority of the others have him being picked in the mid- to late rounds.
But Criner, a 2008 graduate of Canyon Springs High School in North Las Vegas, doesn’t spend much time worrying about what the so-called experts think.
“Those are projections — nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “You can’t listen to those because they are mostly wrong. Playing in the NFL is still an opportunity. If you don’t do anything with it, if you don’t seize it, you’ll be out of the league. There have been first-round picks out of the league in two years because they couldn’t figure it out.”
Despite catching 209 passes for 2,859 yards and 32 touchdowns during a four-year career at the University of Arizona, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Criner still has much to prove.
Scouts.Inc, an evaluation service part of the ESPN Insider package, gives Criner a 52 grade out of 100 possible points and ranks him as the draft’s No. 28 overall receiver prospect. They consider him a possession receiver who lacks the top-end speed and separation skills needed to shine.
Criner, who still occasionally trains at Canyon Springs, was clocked at 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine — a number that didn’t help concerns about his speed.
Still, several agree he has done enough to merit a chance at the next level. Scouts from NFL.com think he could be one of the top five receivers picked.
“Criner is a raw talent who has been inconsistent throughout his career at Arizona. He has been dominant in the Pac-12 at times and uses his athleticism and leaping ability to simply make more plays than the man across from him,” the scouts wrote.
“Criner effectively uses his great size when going for jump balls or when 'boxing out' to catch balls in the short game,” the evaluation continued. “He shows his athleticism after the catch, displaying an ability to make things happen early in the play and the burst to finish them. He needs to learn how to show up every Sunday, but his talent alone legitimizes him as a prospect. He should be one of the first five receivers taken off the board.”
Criner also had to answer questions after missing practices last year with what was reported as a mysterious illness. Some media outlets reported he was gravely ill, but it was later learned he was caring for his sick mother. Then, right before Arizona was to open the season, Criner had an appendectomy and missed three weeks.
Once on the field, he was able to pick up where he left off in 2010, catching 75 passes for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Criner cemented his status as a professional prospect during his junior season, catching 82 passes for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns, which ranked as one of the best seasons in school history. He scored touchdowns in nine games, including catching 12 catches for 179 yards against Oregon State.
It was just like his senior season at Canyon Springs, when Criner had one of the best years in state history by catching 58 passes for 1,631 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was part of the Sun’s all-decade team.
“The minute I saw him (at Canyon Springs), I knew he had the athletic ability,” Canyon Springs coach Hunkie Cooper said. “The question is: How can I bring this diamond and make it shine? He was raw. I knew I could throw the football up to him everywhere and he would catch it. But there was so much more he had to work on.”
That’s something Criner has been working on during his college career and leading up to the draft.
“I have more knowledge of the game,” he said. “I’ve been around the game more and practiced against better players.”
Criner doesn’t have a favorite professional team and isn’t concerned with what team selects him. He just wants the opportunity to catch on with a team.
“I’m very excited. All I could ask for was a chance,” he said. “Whatever team takes me will become my favorite team.”