Hunter Renfrow showing slot role is his to lose at Raiders training camp

Hunter Renfrow showing slot role is his to lose at Raiders training camp

NAPA -- When discussing the Raiders' receiving corps early on in training camp, three names continue to be grouped together.

Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and ... Hunter Renfrow. 

The fifth-round draft pick and College Football Playoff National Championship Game hero might not look the part of NFL slot receiver, but make no mistake, the former walk-on has an uncanny ability to get open against anyone. He proved that during his time at Clemson, and he's shown it early on in training camp as head coach Jon Gruden and the staff have matched him up against veteran Lamarcus Joyner, and Renfrow has held his own. 

"It’s tough. It’s a tough job," Gruden said Tuesday about facing Joyner. "I wouldn’t want to see Joyner every day. But he’s made some plays. I’ll let Lamarcus talk about his progress, he would know better than anybody but he’s picked the offense up quickly, doesn’t seem like his legs have slowed down, he’s taken a lot of reps and I like him. He’s got a lot of instincts and naturalness that you have to have to play the position.”

On Day 1 of practice, Renfrow stood tall against Joyner, shedding the veteran defensive back to get open on a number of different routes. It will be an ongoing battle, but it's one that Renfrow is happy to wage.

"Yeah, it’s good," Renfrow said Tuesday of his matchup with Joyner. "Just going against the best. I feel like if I’m able to get open against him I can get open against anyone. So it’s a good gut check every day and just a good competition for me to just be able to go against him and just the confidence if I can beat him I feel like I can beat most corners.

"I feel like it’s gone good. I feel like I had a good fair against him the first day. The last two he may have gotten me. It’s been a constant battle but we’re making each other better each day.“

Slot receiver is a vital position in today's NFL. In the roster overhaul that took place over the offseason, the Raiders brought in veteran receivers Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson to potentially compete for that spot. But through the first four days of camp, it's been Renfrow that has seemingly taken the control of the role. 

Renfrow's appearance has drawn cracks from a number of his teammates, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. He's been referred to as a "substitute teacher," and Mayock called him "Doogie Howser" when the Raiders drafted him. With a receding hairline that might make you think his day job is fixing computers and not leaving all-world athletes in the dust, Renfrow has surprised a lot of his veteran teammates. But fellow rookie and Clemson teammate Trayvon Mullen has seen this show for quite some time. 

"Nah, I’ve seen it for three years," Mullen said of Renfrow's ability to get open. "He’s that guy that’s just going to give his all and to me, he’s going to get open every play just because of how he plays and the fact that he was always slept on.

"He’s really aggressive, he’s quick. If you don’t have good technique you don’t have a chance of winning against him.”

But how is a former walk-on turned fifth-round draft pick getting the best of NFL defensive backs this early on in his career? He's deceptively quick, yes. He's got hands that appear the be covered in glue. He's got a quick twitch and is as smart as they come. That's all true. 

Renfrow, though, thinks it has to do with his much-talked-about appearance. 

"Maybe just some of what you are talking about," Renfrow said. "Just how I look. I kind of don’t look the part. But really just going out there and getting better every day. I like can’t believe they are paying me to do this. I was going to meetings the other day and I’ve been doing this for 10 years — getting into the playbook and how can I beat that guy and just kind of processing. But they are actually paying us to do that now, so it’s just been fun to me.”

Expectations rarely are this high for a fifth-round draft pick. But Renfrow, like the rest of his fellow rookies -- namely Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram, Josh Jacobs, Maxx Crosby and Mullen -- wasn't brought in to Oakland to be rookies. The Raiders need talented players who can contribute from Day 1 if they plan to turn the ship around quickly in Year 2 under Gruden. 

So far, Renfrow appears to fit that bill. 

[RELATED: Burfict ready to lead transformation of Raiders' defense]

It's early in the 2019 Raiders experiment. But the team was bereft of talent last season and that no longer is the case. A talented rookie class was joined by Brown, Williams, Joyner and Trent Brown. QB Derek Carr now has a number of explosive weapons at his disposal. More than he ever has. 

One calls himself Mr. Big Chest and enjoys hot air balloon rides. One is soft-spoken but appears to glide across the field while torching opposing defensive backs. And one looks like "a substitute teacher," who has been tasked with learning as much as he can from the other two receivers his name keeps getting grouped with. 

"I was talking to (AB) and Tyrell today about techniques that have been successful for them in the past," Renfrow said. "So I just want to be a sponge and soak up as much information as I can. “

The hairline might be receding and he might not look the part, but Renfrow already has positioned himself to be a major part of an offense that could be one of the most explosive units in the league. 

NFL Draft 2020: Jake Fromm, Jordan Love have met with Raiders at combine

NFL Draft 2020: Jake Fromm, Jordan Love have met with Raiders at combine

Mike Mayock was clear Tuesday when he said the Raiders would look to improve any position they can. While the general manager was pleased with Derek Carr's 2019 season, that list does include the quarterback.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Raiders already have met with two quarterbacks at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. But it might not be the signal-callers you are thinking of. 

Georgia's Jake Fromm and Utah State's Jordan Love both told the media Tuesday that they already have met with the Silver and Black. 

LSU's Joe Burrow, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert are seen as the top three quarterbacks in the class, and all three should be off the board by the time the Raiders select at No. 12. If the Raiders fall in love with Tagovailoa or Herbert they could make a move to trade up. But given the number of holes the Raiders have to fill, it seems unlikely they will make a move up for either Herbert or Tagovailoa. 

At his combine presser Tuesday, Tagovailoa said he has not yet met with the Raiders but will meet with different team doctors later today. 

With pressing needs at wide receiver and all over the defense, it would make sense for the Silver and Black to address receiver and linebacker in the first round (our mock draft has them selecting Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and LSU linebacker Patrick Queen) and then perhaps take a flier on a quarterback in third round where they have three picks. 

Love should be gone well before then. He's the No. 4 QB in the class and has physical tremendous upside. I expect a team will jump at the chance to draft him the minute the first three quarterbacks are off the board. 

Fromm, however, is a polarizing prospect. 

He led Georgia to three straight SEC East titles, a Rose Bowl win, two Sugar Bowl appearances (one win) and a College Football Playoff National Championship appearance during his time in Athens, Ga. He played in a number of big games and racked up the wins. He all the intangibles you'd want in a leader of your franchise. He's tough, has grit and just makes plays when his team needs him to. 

But he had a puzzling junior season. 

Fromm entered the 2019 season as one of the best quarterbacks in college football, the leader of a team with national title aspirations. But he recorded career lows in completion percentage (60.8 percent) and yards per attempt (7.4). He also threw for six fewer touchdowns this past season (24) then he did during his sophomore campaign. 

Georgia had an elite offensive line, anchored by likely first-round pick Andrew Thomas, and a devastating running game spearheaded by potential first-round back D'Andre Swift. All that worked to Fromm's advantage, and he still struggled down the stretch. 

During the second half of the season, Fromm completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in five straight games. While he tossed 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions in those games, it's a massive red flag for a three-year starter. 

Some of that falls on Georiga's archaic offensive scheme that made Fromm more of a game manager than his talent suggests. In the age of explosive college offensives, the Bulldogs zagged and went old school, relying on a dominant defense and power running game to choke the life out of opponents, rarely asking Fromm to air it out. 

Fromm was efficient in the pocket throughout his career, constantly putting the ball on time and in the right place on short and intermediate throws. His deep-ball accuracy has been questioned as has his arm strength. 

His hand size which left something to be desired at 8 7/8 inches has been a topic of conversation in Indianapolis, but Fromm had a cheeky response Tuesday. 

“It’s an eighth of an inch away from being the desired nine inches, no big deal,” Fromm said. “The same hands that went to three SEC Championships, Rose Bowl, National Championship and some Sugar Bowls. I think it’s played plenty of football and done well enough so far.”


Fromm had moments of brilliance last season, but also had too many easy misses that will leave teams scratching their head. 

In fairness, Fromm has shown he has the ability to spin it.

Fromm is expected to be a Day 2 or Day 3 selection. He certainly has his warts and will have to show marked improvement, but the Raiders could take a flier on him in the later rounds and see if head coach Jon Gruden can mold him into a starting quarterback. 

[RELATED: Why Raiders signing Brady is gamble worth taking]

With Mike Glennon and DeShone Kizer likely not returning, the Raiders will have room for a young backup quarterback no matter who the starter is. 

Don't be surprised if they take a chance on Fromm later in the draft if he impresses during his interviews. 

Mike Mayock addresses speculation about Derek Carr's Raiders future


Mike Mayock addresses speculation about Derek Carr's Raiders future

As has been the case almost every offseason since he arrived in Oakland, Derek Carr has had to deal with widespread speculation about his future as the team's starting quarterback. 

With the Raiders leaving the East Bay for the bright lights of Las Vegas, many have wondered if head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock might look to make a splash at quarterback this offseason, either in free agency or the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Mayock addressed Carr's status Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, preaching his "evaluate everyone approach" while simultaneously lauding Carr. 

"The bottom line is this, I think everybody needs to understand at what level Derek Carr played last year, OK?" Mayock said. "The guy completed 70 percent of his passes. He had almost a three-to-one touchdown to interception ratio. I think we were No. 11 in the league in total yards, we were seventh in third-down conversions. We did a lot of really good things on offense last year. The disconnect was we didn't score a lot of points. You're 11th in yards, but you're 24 in points. There's an issue. 

"It's defense. It's special teams. It's not scoring in the red zone. It's not scoring in goal to go, OK? To me, those are the issues. Derek Carr played at a high level. I'm very happy with Derek Carr. What I've told everybody I've been in touch with since the day I took this job is we're going to evaluate every position, every year. And if we can get better, we will. Guys get tired of me saying that but that's really what I told Mark Davis before I took the job and that's my mantra."

Rumors have linked the Raiders to soon-to-be-free-agent quarterback Tom Brady. Brady, who will be 43 years old when the 2020 season begins, still has plenty of game left and would bring the pizzazz needed for Vegas' NFL franchise. While signing Brady might not make a lot of sense on the surface, if the Raiders were to agree to accelerate their rebuild to accommodate Brady's desire to win another Super Bowl before hanging it up, then the marriage could work

Mayock wasn't biting on the Brady questions Tuesday. 

"I don't make anything of any rumors," Mayock said. "All I can tell you about free agency -- because I'm not allowed to talk about any of them anyway -- is I have watched tape of just about every guy out there at every position. All that does is uphold what I am telling you that every position gets evaluated every year and if we can upgrade it we will."

Aside from the Brady rumors, the Raiders also have two first-round draft picks in a class with three stud signal-callers. While LSU's Joe Burrow will be off the board at No. 1, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert also have the desired skills to be franchise signal-callers. The Raiders would have to trade up to select one of them, though, and that's something they should avoid based on the number of needs the team has. 

[RELATED: Why Raiders should look to Sanders to revamp receiving corps]

While Mayock and Gruden will look to evaluate and improve each position if they can, the smart money is on Carr taking the first snap in Las Vegas for the Raiders next season. 

He showed great improvement in Year 2 of Gruden's system, and if the Silver and Black can improve the receiving corps, then Carr should be in line to expand upon his success with Gruden next season.