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Finding the Fits: Did Raiders find a starting WR on Day 3 ... again?

By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/
Over the next several weeks, will be reviewing some of the more intriguing picks made during the 2012 NFL Draft through a series called “Finding the Fits.” The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and therefore more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career. As the original owners of the No. 17 pick in the 2012 draft, the Oakland Raiders are next up in the series.

Reggie McKenzie didn't make the trade for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer that cost the Raiders their first-round selection in 2012, but if the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 draft makes strides in his second season in Oakland, it might be tough for McKenzie to not like the outcome of the move.

Palmer certainly looked rusty after sitting out much of the 2011 season in a contract dispute with the Cincinnati Bengals but there is plenty of optimism in Oakland that his ability to drive the ball downfield could complement an effective running game and a quietly underrated receiving corps led by Darrius Heyward-Bey and 2011 rookie Denarius Moore.

The 6-0, 195-pound Moore led the Raiders with five touchdown receptions as a rookie and finished second in receiving yardage (618). Because of his immediate success a year ago, new head coach Dennis Allen might be all the more willing to allow a rookie to see significant time in 2012 ... should one from this class stand out in the preseason.

The reality is, while McKenzie and the rest of the team's scouting staff was operating with essentially one hand tied behind their back due to their first pick not coming until No. 95 overall, the Raiders appeared to enjoy a rather strong draft in McKenzie's first year at the helm. The team expects early contributions from many of their rookies, including their first pick, former Utah offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom.

Just as Moore bucked the odds as the No. 148 overall pick of the 2011 draft, it could be another fifth-round receiver -- former Arizona Wildcat standout Juron Criner selected 20 spots (and a year) later -- who winds up surprising this time.

At 6-3, 224 pounds, Criner is a completely different style of receiver than the shifty Moore or the explosive Heyward-Bey. In an era when the term "possession receiver" seems to have taken on a negative connotation, it wasn't surprising that Criner "slipped" to the late fifth round. After all, Criner was clocked at 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. That didn't stop my CBS colleague Pat Kirwan to tout Criner as a possible diamond in the rough.

Criner's lack of ideal straight-line speed, however, didn't stop him from catching 209 passes for 32 touchdowns over an illustrious career against strong competition in the Pac-12. He is a physical and sharp-cutting route-runner who simply goes up and gets the football, showing the combination of body control, reliable hands and timing on jump-balls to remind Palmer of another "possession receiver" he once threw to in Cincinnati -- T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

It might take a year or so for Criner to develop anything close to the relationship that "Housh" and Palmer had with the Bengals. Considering Criner's unique fit in what could be a surprisingly effective Oakland offense, however, he certainly qualifies as an underrated prospect and one who I expect him will eventually out-play his draft position.

The rest of the Raiders' picks:

3rd Round - No. 95 overall - Tony Bergstrom, OL, Utah
4th Round - No. 129 overall - Miles Burris, OLB, San Diego State
5th Round - No. 158 overall - Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State
5th Round - No. 168 overall - Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
6th Round - No. 189 overall - Christo Bilukidi, DE, Georgia State
7th Round - No. 230 overall - Nathan Stupar, OLB, Penn State

Read more about all of the Raiders' picks here.
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