Hunter Renfrow's game-winning heroics prove Raiders rookie belongs in NFL

Hunter Renfrow's game-winning heroics prove Raiders rookie belongs in NFL

OAKLAND -- Hunter Renfrow is a legend at Clemson. As a sophomore, he caught the pass from Deshaun Watson that beat Alabama in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. All told, he caught 186 passes for 2,133 yards and 15 touchdowns as a member of the TIgers. 

But there was a time when he wasn't a legend. A time when he was finding his way as a preferred walk-on slot receiver for Dabo Swinney's up-and-coming juggernaut. A time when he didn't know if he belonged. 

Then, No. 6 Notre Dame visited No. 12 Clemson on a rainy October Saturday in 2015. Renfrow, a freshman, was the third option for Watson, but he came up with an important 24-yard catch in the first quarter against the fighting Irish, a game Clemson would narrowly win 24-22. 

Renfrow parlayed that catch into an incredible career in Death Valley that saw him become one of the most clutch receivers in modern college football. 

The Raiders drafted Renfrow in the fifth round and he immediately won the job as the starting slot receiver. But the transition to the NFL wasn't seamless, as Renfrow had just 14 catches for 115 yards and no touchdowns in his first six games for the Raiders. 

But he got on the board in Week 8 when he grabbed four passes for 88 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown in the Raiders' loss to the Texans. That moment gave Renfrow the same feeling he got on that wet October night in 2015. 

"In college, I felt like the Notre Dame game, I had a big catch in the Notre Dame game and then kind of felt like I belonged," Renfrow said after the Raiders' 31-24 win over the Lions. "That was similar to that one. Just being able to go out there and feel like you can contribute and go out there and win games. For me, it's never about how many catches or touchdowns, it's at the end of the day do I feel like I've done enough to be a good teammate and to go win games for our team. The more we play, the more we do, hopefully I can continue to do that. "

Renfrow's confidence in himself, and quarterback Derek Carr's belief in him, was on full display Sunday at the Coliseum. With the Raiders and Lions tied at 24 late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders got the ball at their own 25-yard line with 5:16 to play. Carr drove the Raiders down the field to the Detroit 9-yard line. 

On third-and-goal, Carr bought time, rolled left and spotted Renfrow break free near the pylon. Carr fired a strike to Renfrow who nabbed the ball and got both feet down before falling out of bounds, his second career touchdown that gave the Raiders the lead and sent the Coliseum into a frenzy. 

"Something we've been working on is just become more available," Renfrow said of the game-winning score. "When a play breaks down be able to create a new play and Derek did a phenomenal job. Offensive line did a good job to protect and let him get outside the pocket there. From there it's kind of backyard football so it worked out." 

Over his last two games, Renfrow has caught 10 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. 

While the touchdown against the Texans and the game-winning grab Sunday might have been Renfrow's Notre Dame moment in the NFL, Carr never had a doubt the rookie would be great. 

"I had it with him from the moment I met him," Carr said of his trust in Renfrow. "His love for football, you can see it in his eyes. His love for team. I've said it before and I'll say it again, he does not care who catches that last ball. I promise you that. He doesn't care if he gets one catch at all. He just wants to win. When guys are that selfless, you ask them to do selfless things in the run game, ask them to do selfless things in the pass game, clearing somethings out, it really feels good when a guy who's very selfless makes a game-winning touchdown catch." 

[RELATED: Oft-criticized Raiders D comes up big in win vs. Lions]

The rookie transition behind him, Renfrow has cemented himself as a go-to target for Carr over the past two games. 

He belonged at Clemson and he belongs in the NFL. That much has been made clear over the last two weeks. 

On Sunday, he showed his clutch gene made the trip from South Carolina to the Bay Area with him.

Derek Carr details what must get fixed to reignite Raiders offense

Derek Carr details what must get fixed to reignite Raiders offense

ALAMEDA – The Raiders stink. They’re a terrible team after blowout losses against the Jets and Chiefs despite being truly amazing just over a fortnight’s past, when they were coming off a three-game winning streak that made them NFL darlings and a resurgent playoff contender.

That’s the same team we’re talking about, One coming off dramatically different results that have a once confident fan base pulling its hair out heading into Sunday’s vital matchup against the Tennessee Titans.

A win against them at Oakland Coliseum and all is right in the world (again). Lose and it’s apocalypse now.

“I’m excited we get a chance to go compete against a really good football team,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That’s the beautiful thing about this game. You rewind two weeks ago, we were the greatest story in the NFL and two weeks later we suck again, so I think we’ll be alright. (laughter) We are just going to keep grinding. We’re going to stick to what we do.”

Carr admits they’ll have to do better, especially on offense. The passing game is stuck in neutral, revving its engine without moving an inch.

That’s large part receiver issues – Jon Gruden says he’s shaking up that position group this week – and some lackluster quarterback play with two pick-sixes in the last two games. Can’t have that, plain and simple. The Raiders can’t afford the penalty issues plaguing them recently. They can’t afford the nine-quarter touchdown drought that stretched from the Bengals game through the Jets contest and deep into the Chiefs embarrassment. The Raiders beat the Bengals but have been outscored 74-21 in two losses since.

“We’ve had a rough two weeks,” Carr said. “I’ve had a rough two weeks. It’s time to get back on track, it’s time to get back in our stadium, it’s time to be efficient on offense, it’s time to win. I’m excited we get a chance to go compete against a really good football team.”

The Raiders' offense must find a groove after hitting a rough patch, but let’s not forget this unit posted 24 or more points for six straight weeks. They can get going again by finding old magic. The key, Carr says, is staying on schedule and staying balanced. They have to start strong – they aren’t built to overcome large deficits – and avoid major mistakes.

[RELATED: Carr can't say enough about rookie Jacobs' toughness]

That’s how the Raiders did it before. That’s how they can do it again.

“Our execution has not been good enough at all,” Carr said. “Like executing the plays to every detail hasn’t been good enough at all. Turning the ball over myself. I don’t do that. I don’t want to do that. Never been something I’ve wanted to do or been a part of my game and so it doesn’t matter how it happened or why it happened, it happened, and we have to eliminate the turnovers and that starts with me.”

Johnathan Hankins loves being leader to young Raiders' defensive line


Johnathan Hankins loves being leader to young Raiders' defensive line

ALAMEDA -- Johnathan Hankins isn’t even 28 years old yet feels like an old man working on the Raiders defensive front. The starting line features two rookies off the edge and a second-year man working next to him inside.

He is an elder statesman in that crew, with plenty of experience in his seventh year out of Ohio State. Hankins is having a blast with a young, developing crew, knowing he must anchor the defensive line and help those around him make plays.

“I’m just trying to do my best to lead the guys,” Hankins said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “I’ve been here longer than most of the guys on this unit, and I try to show them what it takes to be a professional and pass along all the information I learned from the veterans I worked with way back when.”

Hankins is paying it forward now with words and action. His role at defensive tackle often helps create opportunities for others pushing the pocket back and shutting down the opposition’s interior run game.

The Raiders are better in that area thanks in large part to Hankins’ improvement within the system and are certainly thankful last year’s in-season signing has become a permanent fixture upfront.

Hankins was in a weird spot before joining the Raiders last year, cut just a year into a big three-year contract with Indianapolis because the Colts changed defensive schemes.

He found a proper fit in Oakland and was happy to re-up with them this offseason.

“There was a lot going on after I got released by the Colts, and I was trying to find a place that fits well with me and finding an organization that wanted me,” Hankins said. “That’s what it boiled to, and it has really worked out with the Raiders.”

[RELATED: Mullen's confidence grows as he develops on the job]

Hankins considers it destiny that he’s Raiders, the same team name he had as a 6-year old running back and kicker growing up in Detroit and nearby Dearborn, Mich. That’s where he grew (quite literally) into the dominant defensive force that earned an Ohio State scholarship and a second-round NFL draft slot.

“I’m just enjoying this ride,” Hankins said. “I’m trying to be at my best and show everyone watching that I’m still one of the best defensive tackles in this league. The goal is to get to 12 years, and I think I’m on my way.”