Who is the most underrated player on the Las Vegas Raiders?
It might be Hunter Renfrow, who wasn’t selected until the fifth round (No. 149 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Silver and Black, isn’t even listed as a starter and yet led Raiders wide receivers with 56 catches on 77 targets for 656 yards and two touchdowns last season, with 32 of his receptions going for first downs.
That’s led to the phrase, “Third and Renfro,” but he modestly downplays it.
“I definitely think that’s a cool, cool kinda little catchphrase, but it’s not deserving at times because of how our offense plays and what a good job everybody does,” said the 5-10, 185-pound Renfrow, who did start six games last year. “Not just me.
“It’s definitely a credit to the way we control the tempo, the way we control the offense, how efficient we are. I think I get more credit than I deserve, because a lot of the times, it’s third-and-2, you know, because our offense does such a good job of moving the ball, being efficient, being able to run the ball, and getting those short yardages, so it’s not a third-and-10, third-and-11.”
Even though Renfrow played on two national championship teams at Clemson, he always has seemed to be under-appreciated, having to walk on at Clemson out of high school and never receiving more than third-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in 2017 and 2018.
Still, he played a big role with 186 receptions for 2,133 yards and 15 touchdowns in four years at Clemson, and Coach Dabo Sweeney understood his value to the Tigers.
“Dabo told me, ‘There’s something about it, when it’s third down, the cape comes on and (Renfrow’s) just a different person,’” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said of a conversation he had with Sweeney.
“And it’s true. Dabo’s known him longer than I’ve known him, but Hunter and I are really close. and I see that about him. He doesn’t take what the defense is giving him. He kind of just takes what he wants. … I just trust the heck out of him.”
Renfrow, who is especially effective as a slot receiver, caught 49 passes for 605 yards, 12.3 yards per catch, giving the Raiders four touchdowns and 30 first downs as a rookie in 2019.
That adds up to 105 receptions for 1,261 yards with six touchdowns and 62 first downs in two seasons with the Raiders.
“He’s got great balance, great understanding and he’s got a great understanding of defensive football,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said of Renfrow. “He’s a former quarterback, former high school quarterback, and a coach’s son. That helps him in understanding where the holes are in the zone.
“But in addition, he’s just got great body balance and body position in his route running, and he works at it. It’s a credit to him for his work ethic and overall knowledge of the game.”
Added Carr: “One game, (Renfrow) will attack your leverage and break out. Another game, he’ll attack the same leverage and get you to think out and break-in. Then he’ll go in and back out.
“He’s very smart and he watches what routes have been run on a guy in the past and how they’ve tried to cover it … and if they were successful at it. He’s so competitive, he’s like, ‘No, I think I can run it and beat them that way.’”
Tight end Darren Waller led the Raiders with a total of 197 receptions for 2,341 yards and 12 touchdowns in the last two seasons, so obviously the attention he gets benefits Renfrow and the rest of the offense, especially on third down.
The Raiders are hoping speedy wide receiver Henry Ruggs III breaks out in his second season, but one way or the other 25-year-old Renfrow will keep doing his thing.
“You can get too worried about so many things that you don’t focus on a few,” Renfrow said recently during voluntary OTAs. “So my big thing is to really hone in and focus on a few things.
“I think I can attack the football better. Sometimes, I let it get to my body and get passive. Also, I do a lot of underneath stuff. So getting a good plan and watching a lot of guys and how they attack so as you get later in the season, you’re not doing the same stuff. Those are kind of my big two things.
“I had a list. It was just things over the course of the year I wanted to get better at. It kind of got longer and longer as the season went along.”
It’s easy to see why Renfrow keeps getting better and better, even though he often flies under the radar.
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