Having a quarterback like Derek Carr in place was one of the talked up points that make the Las Vegas Raiders an attractive team to head coach candidates. The Silver & Black’s new El Capitan, Josh McDaniels, made the media rounds talking about how he’s excited to build around DC4 this coming season.
But in his heart of hearts, the Raiders 22nd head coach in franchise history was drawn to the team because of a different Raider. A wide receiver who sports No. 13: Hunter Renfrow.
If there ever was a prototype pass catcher for the McDaniels’ offense, it’s Renfrow. Dubbed “Third-and-Renfrow” for his penchant to save the Raiders’ bacon with timely catches that kept drives alive in his first two seasons, the Clemson product put the league on notice in 2021 with a brilliant 103-catch, 1,038-yard, nine-touchdown season. He’s more than just a mere slot machine. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Renfrow is a legitimate go-to weapon for the Raiders offense that’s equal parts safety net and big-play receiver.
(I’ve even written in past articles that I was surprised New England didn’t take Renfrow in the 2019 draft.)
The popular notion is Renfrow becomes McDaniels’ next Wes Welker. There’s merit to that. The two wideouts are eerily similar. In three seasons with McDaniels calling the plays in New England, Welker was a go-to weapon racking up an impressive 5,402 yards and 22 touchdowns, 464 catches on 630 targets. Welker was a 5-foot-9, 185-pound slot dynamo that used his precise route-running, suddenness and football savvy to find the open areas of a defense and getting open for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Sounds familiar, right? That’s exactly what Renfrow does for Carr. The ability to send defenders in a spin cycle, get open, and provide a trusty target for an accurate quarterback will send McDaniels back in a time machine with his new duo of Carr and Renfrow.
Here’s another eerie coincidence: Welker was 26 years old when he exploded onto the scene with New England in 2007. Renfrow’s big year came at the same age: 26.
The topic of Renfrow and McDaniels’ history of slot success came up during his the coach’s introductory press conference. And the Raiders new head honcho shared he’s spoken with Renfrow.
“We were talking about the slot receivers I’ve coached and that I’ve had the privilege to work with. I told him how excited I was to have the opportunity to work with him in our offense,” McDaniels said.
Using Welker’s usage as a template, it’s highly likely Renfrow’s breakout 2021 campaign becomes the new norm in Las Vegas. Renfrow drew his fair share of targets in his first three season as the Raiders slot receiver with 71 his rookie year, 77 the following year and 128 this past season. While m any wide receivers have wilted under the immense pressure of learning Jon Gruden’s complicated and complex route tree, Renfrow flourished. McDaniels has a similar cerebral method for his wideouts and it’s safe to assume Renfrow will have no difficulty assimilating to another scheme.
Renfrow’s 2021 season earned him Pro Bowl nods — he was an alternate but made it as an injury replacement — and, during the media blitz at the event, Renfrow shared his thoughts on making the roster.
“I was excited,” he said. “It’s something that’s going to be attached to your name forever. It’s not why you play the game. I didn’t dream of playing in the Pro Bowl; I dreamed of winning a Super Bowl, playing and having fun with my teammates, but it’s a great honor and added superlative.”
Renfrow also spoke about the departure of interim head coach Rich Bisaccia and the arrival of McDaniels.
“Obviously, we love Rich, and we think he did a great job,” Renfrow said. “It almost feels like you’re losing a teammate. We cared a lot about him and are very thankful for him, but you can’t hold that against McDaniels. We’re excited. We know he’s a great coach. We know he can get the job done and go set us up to win and, hopefully, win a Super Bowl. We’re excited. I don’t think there’s any turmoil at all.”
Even if McDaniels and new general manager Dave Ziegler add a true No. 1 wide receiver, there won’t be any commotion. The loss of Henry Ruggs III and missing tight end Darren Waller to injury elevated Renfrow to the de facto No. 1 spot. He along with Zay Jones and Bryan Edwards shared starts. But even if the Raiders new brain trust of GM and head coach do make a play for a No. 1 wideout, there will be plenty of targets for Renfrow. He along with Waller are Carr’s most-trusted targets and that won’t wane in 2022.
Ziegler himself likely holds Renfrow in high regard.
“I was an undersized slot receiver and a punt and kick returner (at John Carroll University), so obviously Hunter Renfrow is someone who naturally comes to mind,” Ziegler said during his introductory presser regarding Raiders he’s looking forward to working with. “He’s a talented player. But Josh and I are really excited to get to know all these players and work with all these players. Hopefully the staff we put together allows them to become the best versions of themselves.”