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2021 Rewind: Hunter Renfrow vs Indianapolis Colts

Pro Bowler was balling when the team needed him most

Las Vegas Raiders v Indianapolis Colts
Hunter Renfrow
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Last season was a breakout campaign for Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. While the Raiders’ coaching staff and fans had watched him for two years and knew he was destined for stardom, he was still an unknown commodity around the league heading into 2021.

However, after setting career-highs in receptions (103), receiving yards (1,038) and touchdowns (nine), everyone now knows who the Pro Bowler is. Adding to his list of accomplishments from last year, Renfrow’s catches are the third-highest for a single season in franchise history, and he became the first wideout since Tim Brown in 1997 to eclipse the triple-digit mark.

While statistically, the Clemson product might have put together more impressive performances, arguably his most impactful came during one of the team’s most important games of the season, Week 17 against the Indianapolis Colts.

In that outing, Renfrow was targeted nine times for seven receptions, 76 yards and one touchdown. He also posted a 91.4 PFF receiving grade from the slot that ranked fourth among wide receivers for the week and had four first downs on the inside which was tied with Cooper Kupp for the most at the position. The slot machine also posted a near-perfect passer rating when targeted in the slot at 153.5, the fourth-best among wideouts.

All of that helped the Raiders not only edge out the Colts 23 to 20 in the contest but also helped propel the Silver and Black to just their second postseason appearance since 2003. And while the numbers were nice, the film really depicts Renfrow’s impact on the game.

Renfrow’s first catch of the game came early on during the second play from scrimmage. Las Vegas originally lines up in a three-by-one bunch set with Renfrow as the point man on the line of scrimmage, Foster Moreau lined up at the tight end spot and Zay Jones as the outside receiver off the ball.

Then, those three shift to get a coverage indicator as the linebacker – Darius Leonard, No. 53 – follows Moreau to the outside and the two corners also slide down to match the receivers. That tells Derek Carr it’s man coverage which is further confirmed by Leonard following Moreau to the other side of the field on the motion. Also, the pre-snap movement gives Renfrow more space to operate against the nickel – Kenny Moore, No. 23 – who is playing press coverage.

The slot machine takes advantage of the extra space by attacking the corner’s leverage and getting to square post-snap, putting the corner in a bind as he now isn’t sure if an inside or outside route is coming and has to defend against both. Combine that with Renfrow’s quickness at the top of the route and Moore has little to no chance to cover the slant.

Carr has good timing on the throw to let it rip as Renfrow is making the cut, which helps keep the ball out of the two linebackers’ reach – Leonard and Bobby Okereke, No. 58. – and Carr leads Renfrow up the field. From there, the 2019 fifth-round pick fights for every yard and runs with some lean to fall forward and tack on about five yards after initial contact.

It’s a simple route but the minor details are what make this play work and give the Raiders about a 15-yard gain.

Part of what made Renfrow’s Week 17 performance so impressive is he carved up Moore, who is one of the better slot corners in the NFL and also earned a trip to the Pro Bowl last season.

Pre-snap, the offense gets another coverage indicator as Rock Ya-Sin – No. 26 and current Raider – follows Renfrow across the formation and kicks Moore out so that the Colts can put their best inside corner on the Raiders’ best inside receiver. However, it doesn’t work out as planned for the guys in blue.

The wideout stems to the inside initially and gets the defensive back to commit to the inside route. Also, the wideout does a great job using his head and shoulders to sell the fake and we see another example of his quickness to leave the DB grasping at air as he breaks to the outside on the short out route.

From there, it’s an easy pitch and catch for a third-down conversion for the Silver and Black. This is a perfect example of what makes the Clemson product so lethal on short routes, you can’t run a quick out or flat route much better than this.

I usually stay away from sharing clips of wide receivers run blocking — usually, because they are bad at it – and this isn’t a devastating block by any means but it is an effective one.

Vegas is running duo here where Josh Jacobs’ initial aiming point inside, but he has the option to bounce it outside if the interior gaps are plugged up. With Alex Leatherwood – right guard – losing some ground initially, and both Brandon Parker – right tackle – and Moreau unable to get their helmets on the inside of the defenders’ helmets, it’s an immediate bounce read for Jacobs. That places more emphasis on the perimeter blocks by the wide receivers.

Now, coaches/offensive play-callers can’t expect much from wideouts who are trying to block defenders that outweigh them and have momentum coming downhill, but the play-caller will expect the receivers to at least get in the way. Here, Renfrow does get beat inside a bit but he’s physical and creates a nice collision at the point of attack to kick the safety – Khari Willis, No. 37 – inside just enough and give Jacobs some room on the edge.

Again, this isn’t a block that takes Willis off his feet or anything like that, but it is one where Renfrow does his job to help spring a touchdown. Also, shoutout to Zay Jones for helping to create the outside lane by putting Moore on his back.

It’s third and 13 in the clip above and the Raiders were on the fringe of field goal range. The route from Renfrow isn’t anything special as he’s able to get open because Moreau is physical off the line of scrimmage and Leonard and Moore don’t switch, so the latter ends up getting picked.

That leaves Renfrow wide open but he’s running a short route so Carr keeps his eyes downfield initially. When the pressure starts coming, Carr has to dump it off to the slot machine and that’s where the fun begins.

After the catch, Renfrow works up the field initially to get the linebacker and safety to over pursue to the outside. He then sticks one foot in the ground to cut back to the middle of the field and we see another great example of the forward lean he runs with to pick up yards on the way to the ground.

Las Vegas doesn’t quite get the first down here but this effort by Renfrow after the catch set up a fourth and one that they would go on to convert and eventually knock in a chip shot field goal to go up by two possessions.

The situation makes this next rep more impressive rather than the actual play itself.

The Raiders are down four with about 12 minutes to go and it’s fourth and two, so someone needs to step up and make something happen. Since it’s short-yardage and Jones’ motion gives Carr a coverage indicator, Carr knows Indy is in man coverage and Renfrow will be one-on-one.

Post snap, Renfrow stems to the outside to create room for the post and a wider throwing window so the free safety – George Odom, No. 30 – can’t make a play on the ball. Moore, the nickel corner, does do a good job of getting to Renfrow’s chest with a mirror technique and one-arm jam, and Renfrow does let Moore hang on to him a bit longer than he probably should.

However, the wideout uses his outside arm to club the defender’s hand off of him at the top of the route which also throws off the defender’s balance and allows the wideout to create separation in the end zone. That’s where the wide window that was created from Renfrow’s stem comes into play as Odom has no chance to play the ball in the air, and Vegas takes the lead in the fourth quarter of a pivotal contest.

Also, Moore got flagged for holding on this play, so Renfrow gets extra credit for fighting through illegal contact and still getting open.

The famous play that was a touchdown until it wasn’t.

With the game tied and about 50 seconds left, the Raiders desperately needed to pick up the first down on third and 10, especially since they were outside of field goal range. Renfrow does another great job of setting up the route by attacking leverage, giving himself a two-way go and using his quickness to create separation on the slant.

However, Carr ends up facing pressure so the ball is out later than Renfrow is expecting it. He doesn’t panic and just stays on his path to keep working across the field until Carr has some room to throw. The end zone view does a better job of showing this off as Renfrow makes a beautiful adjustment to the ball to secure the catch and move the chains.

As we found out later, Moore did trip up Renfrow to prevent the score but that probably ended up helping the Raiders as they ended up kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired instead of giving the Colts the ball back with a chance to tie the game.