With one of the best tight ends in the league (Darren Waller), a Pro Bowl running back (Josh Jacobs) and a traditional full-back (Alec Ingold, from a recent knee injury), the Raiders offense has no shortage of short-yard options.
Yet her point of contact in such situations throughout the season has been an undersized recipient, many of whom were once considered too slow to make it into the NFL. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hunter Renfrow was Las Vegas’ most dependable weapon in the first half of the season, leading the team through nine games with four touchdowns.
“He’s like Gumby,” the Raiders’ interim coach Rich Bisaccia said at a recent press conference. “It’s inviolable in a phone booth.”
The Raiders recognized Renfrow’s versatility the instant they got him out of Clemson in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and used it in each of his first two seasons. “Third and Renfrow” became a buzzword for the team, with Las Vegas often targeting the slot receiver for third-down situations in 2019 and 2020.
Opponents knew looks designed for Renfrow were coming, but couldn’t stop them. While this continued into its third season, it might as well have a new nickname – “Red Zone Renfrow”.
The Raiders, like any other player, went to Renfrow near the goal line and made strong returns. All of his touchdowns have resulted in him senselessly itching defenders by using elaborate footwork on double or triple moves to lose cover on select routes where he has autonomy over which direction to ultimately go.
“If they trust me, I can do things within the system to change things and get a little out of my parameters,” says Renfrow. “Not too much at the same time, but I know what I can get away with. I think that’s progress towards becoming a better player every year – learning what I can get away with. “
Some of the successful hijinks Renfrow has dragged on routes in games include quasi tap dancing and fake dropping, but quarterback Derek Carr says the receiver is even more exaggerated in practice. In one-on-one exercises, when the other receivers are running conventional routes with Carr, Renfrow uses the time to “push the envelope,” the quarterback said.
Renfrow tries a few things that confuse even Carr, who has to veto some moves because they don’t work with timing and protection. But he values them all.
“It’s fun coming up with these ideas, and it’s fun because it encourages my creativity,” says Carr. “He’s probably the most creative team-mate I’ve ever met.”
Carr has also called Renfrow one of the best distance runners he has ever seen, and he’s not the only one to shower him with that praise. This has long been the book on Renfrow and the main reason it got a professional inclusion in the first place, despite the fact that NFL.com’s scouting report went into the draft, which knocked it down for “lacking size and speed.”
However, Renfrow uses his frame to his advantage and is incredibly nimble to compensate for disadvantages in the game against faster defenders. He’s also adept at using his unorthodox angles and movements to get her to miss once he has the ball.
“The slot position gives you more space, so it’s sometimes easier,” says Renfrow. “You can see how the picture paints itself and you can see where the defenders are.”
To distract compliments, Vintage is Renfrow, whose quiet demeanor suits his small stature. He’s about as humble as professional athletes come.
When he got into the season, he joked that he only talked about trash a few times and “felt bad about it” afterwards. He doesn’t need to share words, however, as his skills are enough to frustrate opponents.
Renfrow made so many big games, with six catches in a Week 1 win against the Baltimore Ravens, that the defenders retaliated with a series of filthy and late hits in the eyes of the coaching staff and the raiders’ front office.
The organization filed a complaint with the NFL, and while the league did not impose disciplinary action, news of the complaint might have helped other teams not have been overly physical since then. Anyway, he stayed healthy in the middle of a breakout year.
Renfrow has drawn on his lifelong sports experience to improve this season. He cites basketball and football as the reason for his “spatial awareness” of different cover systems.
Carr and Bisaccia say it was something else from his youth that gave Renfrow a head start as a receiver: He was a stellar prep quarterback who worked at Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, Florida under his father, coach Tim Renfrow , played. That has given Renfrow a better understanding of where to be to get the most benefit from Carr, according to Bisaccia.
Instead of going to a smaller college and continuing to play quarterback, Renfrow moved on at Clemson and became a legendary receiver. He was part of two national championship teams and got the game-winning touchdown in the title game against Alabama in 2017.
He might have profiled himself as the kind of college star who couldn’t compete in the physically faster NFL, but he quickly exceeded those expectations. He’s become more than the Raiders ever imagined.
“I think he’s one of the best all-football players in the NFL,” says Carr. “I think he’s a special talent.”
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.