For the final time in the 2019 season, the Denver Broncos will take the field in front of their home fans.
It comes against the rival Oakland Raiders, who desperately need a win and some outside help to reach the playoffs. The Broncos will look to play spoiler.
If the Broncos want to be that spoiler against the Raiders, they’ll have to take away emerging rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, who has caught fire late in the season, serving as a security blanket for veteran quarterback Derek Carr.
Coming out of Clemson on the heels of a decorated career, Renfrow certainly had his doubters in the NFL due to his diminutive size and lack of speed and explosion. He’s turned that into a myth so far in his career, continuing to produce out of the slot much like he did with the Tigers under Dabo Sweeney.
Renfrow appears to be the heir apparent to the Wes Welker/Brandon Stokley mold in today’s NFL. He’s not a burner, isn’t a big-bodied receiver and certainly doesn’t look the part of a professional athlete, but man is he darn good at his craft.
Despite not being known as a fast receiver (he ran just a 4.6 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February), Renfrow has ripped off two 56-plus yard touchdowns during his rookie season.
Here against the Chargers in Week 17, Renfrow took the short slant 56 yards for the score, sparking the Raiders’ offense in a 24-17 road win to remain alive in the playoff picture.
He’s a tough cover in the slot and can get lost at times against defenses, leading to the big plays.
Slot fade, for the win!
Seriously, when you have a slot weapon like Renfrow is for the Raiders, this route is usually undefeated in the NFL.
I love the way he stacks the defender off the line, flips his hips to the boundary and gets vertical, putting the Cincinnati defender in chase mode. That’s a terrific touch throw from Carr too.
This is a deadly combination.
The thing that makes Renfrow so successful is his route running abilities.
Like I said earlier, he’s not the biggest or the fastest by any stretch of the imagination, but he can run routes with the best of them, which allows him to separate against NFL defensive backs.
Against the Houston Texans in Week 8, Renfrow ripped off this 65-yard touchdown thanks to some impressive route running early off the line, causing the Texans’ defensive back to stumble, giving him room for the catch and run.
He’s a shifty guy in tight too, which allows him to win after the catch here against the Texans, putting 6 on the board.
One thing the Raiders have done really well this year is to maintain a balanced, possession-heavy offense under head coach Jon Gruden with Carr at the helm.
Oakland sits ranked No. 9 with an average time of possession of 30:54. A lot of that has to do with a great running game, but it also helps to have a short, quick-strike passing attack with possession receivers like Renfrow in the slot.
The Raiders love to get him the ball on quick tosses near the line of scrimmage, especially on outside screens.
With two blockers in front and the football to Renfrow quickly, Oakland wants the Clemson product to try and pick his way through the defense to get to the sticks.
More often than not, he’ll get darn close to the line to gain despite not being super elusive. What he is with the football is decisive and gets north-south in a hurry, which can stun defenses at times.
The go-to route for Renfrow and the Raiders though is the short crossing route that allows Carr to get into a rhythm early.
I love the selling of the down block here by Renfrow to force the Lions’ defender to take his eyes off of him. From there, he gets lost along the line of scrimmage before then bursting diagonally through the Lions’ front seven for the 17-yard pitch-and-catch with Carr.
How to Stop Renfrow
For Denver to try and take away a guy who has hauled in 25 of his 43 catches since Week 8 (he missed weeks 13-15 with a rib injury), they’ll have to get creative in the slot.
I’d like to see Denver use Duke Dawson this week, as this matchup is the type that John Elway likely acquired him for. If Dawson doesn’t get more than the three snaps he received last week, let’s see what Trey Marshall and Will Parks can do covering a slot receiver, allowing Justin Simmons to stay in his centerfield safety role.
Whoever draws the tough task of covering Renfrow out of the slot has to get physical with him. He hasn’t really had hands on him this season out of the slot, but the Broncos have to sell out and get physical with him, especially on short routes.
Jostling Renfrow could throw him off of his game a bit, forcing Carr to look elsewhere.
Tackle well, get physical and make sure Renfrow is marked often should help Denver take him away for the most part, which should help them close the 2019 season with a win in front of their home fans, sending the Raiders into Las Vegas in 2020 on a sour note.