The Las Vegas Raiders have had a number of outstanding wide receivers in their 62-year history and now they have another one, although third-year man Hunter Renfrow often flies under the radar.
Perhaps that’s because the fifth-round draft choice in 2019 (No. 149 overall) out of Clemson is only 5-10 and 185 pounds, but he’s one of the better slot receivers around.
“The very first time I saw Hunter, I had to make sure that was really him, and it was,” quarterback Carr said. “He has surprised me every day since. The way he sees the game, the way he plays the game–super tough, unbelievably athletic, quick, agile. I mean, he goes against some of the best corners in the world, and he finds a way to get open and make plays.
“I think the biggest thing I love about him is he sees the game the exact same way that I do. So, he runs some unorthodox-type routes, but I kind of see it that way. I think it makes it harder for defenses, and I think that’s why we’ve just had a great relationship and a great chemistry since he got here.”
Of all the great Raiders wide receivers, Renfrow is most like speedy Cliff Branch in stature but probably is more like Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff on the field because, despite a lack of outstanding size and speed, he simply finds ways to get open.
And he’s been so clutch, it’s created the saying, “Third and Renfrow.”
Renfrow has been a tremendous complement to tight end Darren Waller, Carr’s favorite receiver, and he caught 49 passes for 605 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie before adding 56 receptions for 656 yards and two scores last season.
So far this season heading into Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Renfrow has 52 catches on 69 targets for 495 yards and four touchdowns in nine games, making at least five receptions in every game except one and seven in each of the last three.
In addition, Renfrow has developed a triple move that caught the attention of legendary quarterback Bob Griese, now a television analyst, who called the move, “China.”
“Yeah, he developed that route off an original what we call a double-move,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “Now he’s made it a triple-move. So, you go back to maybe just running the singular move. He doesn’t need to double anybody up. Based on our philosophy offensive-wise is we like to do things that look the same to the defense but are different. … He’s been able to master some of those inside slot moves.
“Not take a look at Hunter Renfrow and say he’s not one of the better slots in the league you’d be doing a disservice to the kid because he’s played very well this season.”
Renfrow caught 186 passes for 2,133 yards and 15 touchdowns in his four-year career at Clemson, including 60 receptions for 602 yards as a junior and 49 catches for 544 yards as a senior.
And he caught the game-winning touchdown pass with one second left when Clemson beat Alabama in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship game, one year after making two TD catches in the same game.
Perhaps the most spectacular play Renfrow made for the Raiders came as a punt returner against the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this season when he saw that one of the Chargers’ gunners, Tevaughn Campbell, was uncovered on the wide side of the field.
Chargers punter Ty Long saw it too and instead of punting threw a pass toward Campbell that could have gone for big yardage and perhaps a touchdown, but by that time Renfrow had raced up the field and he broke up the pass with a hard hit on Campbell.
“We didn’t have a guy out there and I was kind of in between, and I didn’t know if I should play the return or go down and play the receiver,” Renfrow said. “Luckily (Long) took some time to throw the ball and I was able to make a play. It was a big stop for us, I guess.”
Said Carr: “That was an amazing play. Even if the guy had caught it, he was short (of the first down had Renfrow tackled him). And that just shows you what kind of football player (Renfrow) is. I think he’s one of the best football players in the NFL.
“I think he's a special, special talent and for him to make that play ... you look back at that play like, 'Wow, what a play.' I was very impressed by that.”
When he joined the Raiders, Renfrow fit right in with Carr.
“I love Derek,” Renfrow said. “He’s been big for me in that maturation process. Just all his knowledge, his eight years of knowledge, and being able to convey that to me–it’s becoming simpler and simpler. I’m able to recognize defenses a little better, and the little things that should take place as you play more and get more experience.
“So, hopefully it continues to slow down. … Really, that’s why we’re all here. That’s why we do our jobs and we try to get better from year to year, no matter what you do, and hopefully I’m able to keep getting better and better.”
So it seems the best of Renfrow is yet to come.
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