Arizona’s offensive stars are shining entering the draft

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In the recent Senior Bowl, Arizona had two offensive players (quarterback Nick Foles and receiver Juron Criner) who some believe will be fairly high picks in April’s NFL Draft. I was able to view three games from this past season (Utah, UCLA and Washington) as well as watch them practice and play in the Senior Bowl. Let’s break down their games.

Nick Foles

Nick FolesNick Foles threw for over 4,300 yards, completing 69 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last year.

Foles is a 3-year starter who has put up some very good numbers the last two years. In 2011 he threw for over 4,300 yards, completing 69 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. In 2010 he threw for almost 3,200 yards, throwing 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. For his career he threw for over 10,000 yards with 67 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.

Coming out of high school, Foles was a 3-star recruit who originally signed with Michigan State then transferred to Arizona after his freshman year.

Foles plays in a spread attack that utilizes half-field reads and he is never under center. He is a big guy measuring in at 6-5 and 244 with 10.75 inch hands. He has a fairly quick overhand delivery with good arm strength and fairly good accuracy and ball placement. He has only average athleticism and speed. He plays to a 5.0 40 speed with just average foot quickness and mobility. He does not show the ability to work his way out of trouble and extend plays. This shows up in his being sacked 23 times in each of the last two seasons.

Because he plays in a half-field read offense you seldom see him look at both sides of the field. He usually goes through a two-receiver read and tries to get the ball out of his hand quickly. It’s when he can’t find an open receiver to the play side that he gets in trouble. He doesn’t show the ability to find receivers on the opposite side of the field, so he either takes a sack or throws the ball away.

While I have seen him make some very good throws, he can have a tendency to trust his arm too much and force a throw. This is why his touchdown to interception ratio is just average. He turns the ball over too much; in the games viewed he threw six interceptions. While he has outstanding numbers, what’s became apparent to me is he is very inconsistent at coming up with the big play when needed.

Overall, there are things to like about Foles. He has outstanding size, a strong arm and flashes the ability to make great throws. On the downside he is very inconsistent, takes too many sacks and turns the ball over too much. While some team may like his size and arm strength and draft him high, I see a mid-round pick that still needs a lot of development. History has shown us that quarterbacks who come from half-field systems such as Arizona’s struggle when they get to the NFL. He is going to have to learn to play from under center and read the whole field. This can’t be done overnight. Unless forced into action I see him as no better than a 3rd quarterback his first few years in the league and he may not ascend into anything better than a two. I see marginal NFL starter traits at this time.

Juron Criner

Juron CrinerICONJuron Criner caught 75 passes for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011.

This year we seem to have a large number of “big” receivers in the draft with Criner being one of them. At the Senior Bowl he measured at 6-2 and 220, with 31.5 inch arms and huge 10.5” hands. He was a part-time starter as a sophomore in 2009 and has been a full-time starter the last two seasons. He has had a very productive career while at Arizona. In 2011 he caught 75 passes for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns, and his biggest year was 2010 when he caught 82 passes for 1,233 yards and also 11 touchdowns. Coming out of high school, Rivals had Criner rated as a 3-star prospect. He was mainly a regional recruit and was offered by such schools as Utah, Oregon, Arizona State, Arizona and Nebraska.

Criner is a good athlete with good play speed. While not a “burner” he plays to around 4.52. Like many big receivers, he uses his size very effectively. He is quick off the line and into his routes. He uses both moves and his strength to avoid/get by jam. While he is not asked to run a large variety of routes, he is a good route runner. He shows very good flexibility and body control and is able to get in and out of cuts quickly. He shows a nice speed cut and he consistently gets separation on out routes. He is Arizona’s go-to receiver and they throw to him when they need a play. He has excellent hands and in four games viewed including the Senior Bowl, I only saw 1 dropped pass.

While he isn’t a burner, he gets open deep because he shows a burst going after the ball. He tracks the ball very well and shows excellent ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He has great leaping ability and is excellent at “high pointing” the ball. He is tough and courageous in traffic and usually comes up with the ball. For a big guy, he has almost surprising run-after skills. He is quick-footed with a burst and shows the ability to consistently make defenders miss. He runs hard, has some elusiveness and fights for extra yards.

Overall, Criner has the traits to be a starter early in his career. Many clubs are now looking for productive big receivers and Criner fits the bill. Where he gets drafted will depend on what he runs at the Combine and his pro day, but right now he looks like he could be a solid 2nd-round pick.

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