Coming out of Clemson known as a clutch player who made big plays in big moments for a championship level program, Hunter Renfrow was selected in the 5th round by the Raiders. His addition caused excitement in the Oakland fan base.
That said, making plays in college doesn’t always translate to the professional level. Renfrow was never the best WR on his own team in college, a program that has churned out the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Mike Williams, Adam Humphries, and Deon Cain, just to name a few! The reason Renfrow was able to get playing time surrounded by all that NFL talent was his savvy play and sure hands — qualities Raiders fans were hoping to see become staples of his play in the NFL. Lets take a look at his development through eight games as a Raider.
Week 1 gave us a glimpse of good things to come on this broken play in the redzone against the Broncos. Renfrow runs a slant across the middle, gets his head around, and sits down his route in an easier area for Carr to throw across his body. Even after sitting his route down, Renfrow has to contort his body to adjust to a fast ball thrown behind him, but shows off those great hands to extend the drive.
It hasn’t been all roses for Renfrow this season. He struggled to gain separation against man coverage against the Chiefs. Another problem area for Renfrow was making contested catches. A relatively diminutive player at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Renfrow isn’t your prototype combat catch receiver. The play above shows him slipping out of his break and failing to haul in the catch when the defender gets his hands in the catch point.
The fun thing about watching Renfrow tape is how he shows improvement each week. This catch came in Week 3. Matched up against slot corner Mike Hughes of the Vikings, Renfrow runs across the middle of the field, but is blanketed in coverage. Carr throws the ball to him anyways, and Renfrow makes the contested catch this time. The athletes who play slot corner in the NFL are usually the quickest and fastest players on defense. Separating from them each week isn’t a given. Sometimes he will need to make a tough catch like this.
The Raiders called Renfrow’s number on this 3rd-and-long play against the Colts. Renfrow is an extremely agile player who has been getting his fair share of manufactured catches on the outside to see what type of ground he can gain after the catch. The problem comes when he collides with the slot corner, slowing down his release into the flat. By the time he gets the ball, two defenders are closing in and he is unable to make a move to secure the first down.
Fast forward to Week 5 and Renfrow gets another play call designed to get him in space on the perimeter. This time, it’s off a jet-motion look and Renfrow has adjust to an errant pass from Carr, who has pressure in his face. When Renfrow comes down, he strings moves together to force one missed tackle and avoid taking a hit from another. Another instant improvement from the rookie.
Renfrow will be called upon to run shallow routes either to the sideline or across the middle. Slants, bubble screens, or speed outs have been the majority of his targets through 8 weeks. The double slant concept in the clip above against the Texans is a play you will see often this season until teams can take it away. We see Renfrow start to put it all together, making a tight window catch and making a defender miss for a 65 yard touchdown.
Last week against the Lions, Renfrow had his best game as a pro. Carr is gradually getting more comfortable targeting him deep down the field. In weeks past, he might have been open down the field, but the passes thrown to him weren’t catchable. Renfrow runs a drag route that starts out underneath linebacker depth before he heads upfield. Carr throws the ball up and the rookie brings it down for a 17-yard gain.
Later in the game, with a chance to break the tie, Carr again goes to Renfrow. The chemistry between these two has improved every week and the rookie receiver is on the same mental wavelength as his QB. Renfrow fights through traffic and finds the near pylon, catching a dart from Carr and tapping both feet in bounds. This is the best play of Renfrow’s short career.
Of the 24 passes Renfrow has caught this season, 15 of them have gone for a first down good for 6. Each week, he is putting himself in more chain-moving situations and has carved out a role for himself in the slot.
The ability to make defenders miss will be put to the test each week for Renfrow. Gruden has shown he will call several screens each game to see if the shifty receiver can make enough moves to steal a first down.
Renfrow has improved his ability to beat tight man coverage each week as well. In the beginning of the season he wasn’t getting enough separation from defenders. Since the bye week, Renfrow has taken a step forward in this department, thus making a clearer read for his QB.