Hunter Renfrow is as unassuming as you can get. On appearance alone, the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder looks more like a member of the Las Vegas Raiders coaching staff or a specialist in the team’s analytics and data department than a wide receiver.
But appearances can be deceiving.
“I keep telling people that say he just works hard, that the guy is just a good football player. He’s just more talented than some people. I don’t think he gets enough credit for that,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said regarding Renfrow. “I’m very happy with the success that he’s had in this league. One thing I know about him is that he’s not ever satisfied. He’s going to keep working to try to get even better and he’s a really good player.”
While he may not be physically imposing or have unparalleled speed like his contemporaries, the 26-year-old Renfrow is a defensive back’s nightmare matchup in the slot. The 92 catches, 949 yard and six touchdowns Renfrow’s posted is evidence of that. His 2021 production is a quantum leap compared to last season and his rookie year (56 catches, 656 yards, two touchdowns and 49 catches, 605 yards, four touchdowns, respectively).
Long-developing routes? Quick routes? Full route tree? No problem for Renfrow. He has unrivaled trust with Carr and there’s no denying Vegas’ slot machine is a fifth-round jackpot.
The combination of his off-the-chart footwork, route running and football IQ, is allowing Renfrow to cook opposing defenders tasked with covering him. It’s truly something to behold.
“Renfrow’s a super slot. He’s really tough to cover and really quick. He’s a favorite of (Raiders quarterback Derek) Carr’s. They have good chemistry together,” Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said before his team faced off with the Raiders.
“He’s a guy who’s a Swiss Army knife for them. They plug him and put him anywhere. Whether it’s against a DB or a linebacker, he finds ways to get open in man and in zone,” Broncos safety Justin Simmons said, echoing his head coach’s thoughts on Renfrow.
The Clemson product is on the cusp of etching his name in the Raiders storied franchise history books.
Renfrow’s 92-catch mark has him sitting right behind Tim Brown’s all-time best mark for a Raiders wide receiver (104 in 1997). The Clemson product is tied with Jerry Rice’s 92-reception season in 2002.
Overall, Renfrow sits fifth on the franchise’s single-season receptions record list just behind tight end Todd Christensen (92 in 1983 and 95 in 1986), Brown, and current teammate tight end Darren Waller (107 in 2020). That’s elite company for a not-so-heralded wideout.
Hunter Renfrow needs 8 catches the final 2 games for #Raiders to become the 3rd WR drafted in the 5th round to catch 100+ passes in a season. Stefon Diggs did it in 2018 and 2020 and Tyreek Hill this season— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) December 30, 2021
Waller’s record stands out immensely in that the tight end broke Brown’s 23-year-old record just last season. And now, Renfrow is 15 catches away from tying it and 16 away from breaking it with two regular-season games left to play. Unlike his teammate who stands 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds with 4.46 speed (Waller’s 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine), Renfrow is doing it different breed of matchup nightmare due to guts and sheer will.
Renfrow is also a mere 51 yards from eclipsing the 1,000-yard receiving plateau and if he reaches the mark, would be the first Raiders wide receiver to rack up that many yards since Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper both did so in 2016.
“He’s the same guy every single day just like a lot of our guys. They’re the same every day and he has been the same every day since I’ve known him,” Carr said. “I’m just so proud of him and so happy for him and the success that he’s having.”
Just don’t expect the humble and self-effacing Renfrow to pat his own shoulder or toot his own horn.
“It’s about winning games for sure, but Derek has done a great job of getting me the ball this year and the offensive line has done a great job stepping up and letting him get the ball to me. It’s cool but let’s see how we finish this thing out,” Renfrow said.
And to think, in hindsight, how fortunate it was for the Raiders to snag Renfrow with the 149th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
“I feel like he has an innate feel for the game, as far as separation, how to get open,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said after the team selected Renfrow. “I did not even really care what he ran. He ran faster, and I was almost, to be honest with you, I was almost disappointed he ran in the 4.5s at the combine because I did not want any people noticing him anymore … his production on the field was outstanding. He has an innate ability to separate.”
He profiled exactly like a wide receiver for the New England Patriots if we’re being honest. When the Pats were on the clock just 16 picks before Renfrow went west to the then Oakland Raiders, I thought he’d be heading to New England. Instead, Bill Belichick’s team took Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
And here we are with Renfrow, slot extraordinaire and nightmare. He’s certainly attracted attention from both the Cleveland Browns and Broncos. He saw a trio of defenders rotate his way in Ohio and more of the same this past Sunday.
His two-game production in those pair of contests (six catches, 72 yards, one touchdown) is testament to the attention he’s warranting. It’s a far cry from the 30 catches, 353 yards, one TD performance he strung together in the three games prior to the last two.
The Indianapolis Colts and the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders' final two opponents on the 2021 regular-season slate, will likely do all it can to ensure Renfrow’s impact is limited at best. But like he’s done in his almost three full seasons in the NFL, the diminutive Renfrow is going to make an impact, whether the Colts and Chargers like it or not.