Last season was undoubtedly disappointing for Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. A year after recording career highs with 103 catches, 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns and making the Pro Bowl, he battled through injuries and set career lows with 36 grabs for 330 yards and just two scores in 2022.
Despite that, Renfrow remained optimistic during the offseason and spoke about how he was excited to begin year two in head coach Josh McDaniels’ system. In a sense, the wideout was getting a fresh start heading into 2023 with a clean bill of health and a better understanding of the playbook.
“Hunter definitely has been involved throughout the summer and moving forward,” offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi told reporters on Tuesday. “He was a big part of the game plan in Denver, always is a big part of the game plan.” However, Renfrow only saw 19 total snaps during the Raiders’ season opener against the Broncos and ran just nine routes, according to Pro Football Focus, without drawing a target on the afternoon.
That had to be frustrating for the wideout who is looking for a bounce-back campaign. But sometimes, a plan just doesn’t come together as everyone expected it to and Lombardi did seem to like what he saw from Renfrow.
“It was a kind of a weird game,” the coach explained, “how it went in terms of the amount of plays and the amount of series we got. [Renfrow] ran some really good routes on third down, he was open the last play of the game when Jimmy [Garoppolo] scrambled and stuff like that.
“So, some days obviously production in terms of catches and targets is something that you guys look at a lot in terms of that type of thing. But I thought Hunter did a good job of doing his job and being ready to go, and it was just kind of one of those weird games.”
To Lombardi’s point, Garoppolo only had 29 dropbacks last Sunday which was tied for the fourth-fewest of the top 32 quarterbacks around the league, and the coach went on to explain how the flow of the game altered the team’s strategy.
“We had six possessions, and one of those was a kneel-down at the end of the half,” Lombardi said. “So, it was a weird game where we used a little bit more 21 and 12 personnel throughout the first half and kind of just felt like we wanted to keep drives going, and we had them going.
“But in terms of Hunter, he’s done a great job in terms of doing his job in practice and we look forward to kind of getting him integrated here as we move forward.”
The last part of the offensive coordinator’s statement carries a significant amount of weight this week as the Raiders prepare to take on the Buffalo Bills. Las Vegas’ leading receiver against Denver, Jakobi Meyers, is in concussion protocol and questionable for the game. If Meyers can’t go, that should create more opportunities for Renfrow and this week’s matchup should tilt in his favor.
Taron Johnson served as the Bills’ nickel corner last season, and he allowed the second-most receptions (56) and receiving yards (551) while surrendering the most touchdowns (six) in slot coverage, per PFF. On Monday night, Johnson was only targeted twice but gave up completions on both passes for 29 yards, and his 1.53 yards per coverage snap while covering the slot was the seventh-highest at the position in Week 1.
So, between Meyers’ injury and Buffalo’s struggles covering inside receivers, Renfrow should be a bigger part of the Raiders’ game plan and see a few targets this Sunday. Granted, as Lombardi mentioned above, the plan doesn’t always come to fruition and the Raiders might have an advantage in the ground game, too.
Last week, the Bills gave up 172 rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry to the Jets as those figures were the fourth-most and the most, respectively, in the NFL. Does that mean Las Vegas will lean heavily on 12 and 21 personnel again, limiting Renfrow’s playing time?
We’ll have to wait and see how the contest plays out, but the Raiders would be wise to take advantage of any matchup that tilts in their favor, and targeting the slot receiver certainly seems like a mismatch they should exploit.