While in charge of the Raiders, Al Davis was known for taking some great talent, even if the players were raw. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't.
One name that makes every Raiders fan cringe: JaMarcus Russell.
Russell—the hopeful franchise QB for Oakland—was such an incredibly physical specimen, but his mental ability didn't come close to his physical ability.
Sadly, we all know how the Russell experiment turned out.
The Raiders now have other physically gifted players like speedsters Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey—the fastest receiving corps in the NFL. These receivers—along with Criner and his less than stellar 4.68 40-yard dash—look to be headed in the right direction.
Criner was a fifth-round pick for the Raiders, but could have been selected as high as the third round if not for his slow 40 time. The reality is that Oakland got a steal with the 168th pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
A former All Pac-12 player for Arizona, Criner is a big body and legitimate red-zone threat. His 38" vertical combined with his 6'3" and 224-pound frame provides size that other Raiders receivers lack.
Not only that, but his size is remarkably similar to another notoriously "slow" receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. Coincidentally, the Cardinals receiver is 6'3" and weighs 218 pounds (a very similar body type to Criner).
Criner has impressed many people in OTAs. According to InsideBayArea, at one point he made "four head-turning plays during a 20-minute span."
Four impressive plays in preseason workouts is quite different from such plays during the regular season. However, with no receivers locked into the No.1 and No.2 slots, Criner should get a shot to show new coach Dennis Allen what he can do in-game.
He represents the continuation in a trend of wide receivers in the NFL that aren't small, speedy players, but are closer to the Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald models who can jump and catch lobs in the corner of the end zone over smaller defenders.
Does Criner have the ability to take a hit from a NFL linebacker? That remains to be seen; but he has the size to succeed, and has been impressive thus far in the offseason.
He may have a long way to go to catch Larry Fitzgerald, but the NFL always welcomes a breakout star (see Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in New England).
The Raiders would enjoy a solid season from their rookie receiver, too. All he has to do is make the most of his opportunities.
Easier said than done.