Hunter Renfrow's play, clutch performance translating well to NFL game

Hunter Renfrow's play, clutch performance translating well to NFL game

ALAMEDA – Hunter Renfrow lined up in the inside right slot, ran upfield after the snap and broke in slightly. The Raiders rookie receiver turned back to Derek Carr as he neared the goal line but the ball wasn’t headed his way.

His quarterback was under some duress, now rolling to his left. Renfrow knew what that meant.

Scramble drill.

He ran toward the back of the end zone in Carr’s direction, saw some traffic ahead and altered to a shallower route. Carr saw Renfrow enter open space and fired a strike easily secured.

Touchdown, Raiders.

It came with two minutes left Sunday against the Detroit Lions, providing decisive points in a 31-24 Raiders victory at the Coliseum.

That wasn’t Renfrow’s first game-winner. He’s a Clemson legend for making plays like that, including one that sealed a Tigers national title in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Alabama.

All clutch plays on Renfrow’s resume are special, but he considers the latests one truly unique. It really meant something to the fifth-round draft pick trying to prove he belongs.

“I thought I was good enough to play at this level,” Renfrow said on this week’s edition of the Raiders Talk podcast. “It’s one thing to think it, and another to go do it. Now I know I can make plays here. It was special. Look, college is over. That was a great group of guys we had there, but we have Derek Carr here and so many good players who can make those moments happen and go get a win when we need it.”

It was a sign that the success he attained in college despite being a preferred walk-on supposedly too small and too slow to thrive can be matched in the NFL. So is his recent play. Renfrow has 10 catches on 11 targets for 142 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games, another sign that he’s putting it together on the NFL level.

Renfrow won’t use those numbers to say he told you so. He doesn’t operate that way. There’s no chip on the shoulder, no anger-fueled desire to shut detractors up. All the doubters, all the easy punchlines about size and receding hairlines or average Joe appearances are water off a duck’s back.

“I know I don’t look like I belong," Renfrow said. "If I was in someone else’s shoes, I might make fun of me, too, with the hairline and the way I look. I think it’s funny, but you have to go out there and make plays. Between the lines, it doesn’t matter how you look. It’s about how you play.”

It’s also unfair to say Renfrow’s not an athlete. He’s shifty and quick, with good reaction time and soft hands. He accepts his limitations and prepares in a way to succeed despite them.

“Contrary to belief, I am slightly athletic,” Renfrow said with a smile. “I’m not a freak. Compared to Tyrell Williams and those guys, maybe I’m not, but the harder I work and the more details I can focus on, the more I can let my ability shine through. For me, it’s trying to run routes and recognize defense better than anybody so I can let the gift God gave me shine through.”

Renfrow says his recent production increase has come from the pro game slowing down and taking what the defense gives. He is playing his way within the Raiders system, finding open space on time to make plays. His hard work and commitment to progress are driven by proving three people right. General manager Mike Mayock, head coach Jon Gruden and receiver coach Edgar Bennett believed he could be a successful NFL player. They believed in Renfrow, that he’s a winner who just needed an opportunity. They gave him one, just like Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney did years ago.

[RELATED: Raiders rookie class' dynastic vision might be ahead of schedule]

Renfrow’s grateful for the opportunities given, and the chance to progress without the need to be perfect. He isn’t repaying them in the box score. That’s not where he finds professional self-worth. He does that by answering two simple questions.

“The two things I’ve always judged myself by have nothing to do with catches or stats,” Renfrow said. “Am I being a great teammate, and does it matter than I’m on the team? Am I making an impact and am I helping us win games? If I can say yes to those things, then I can live with the results.”

Raiders sign veteran linebacker Preston Brown, add another new face

Raiders sign veteran linebacker Preston Brown, add another new face

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders added another veteran defender on Monday, signing Preston Brown to supplement the linebacker corps. Brown worked out for the Silver and Black and officially joined the team in the wake of Sunday’s 17-10 win over a Cincinnati Bengals team that cut him recently.

Brown’s an old-school middle linebacker, someone who can make sure tackles and fit in well on obvious rushing downs. The Raiders primarily use two linebacker sets even in base packages, bringing in relative newcomer Will Compton against heavier sets.

Brown believes he’ll be able to integrate well and play quickly, considering the similarities between Paul Guenther’s scheme and what is run in Cincinnati.

“I have a lot of the terminology down already, so it’s just a matter of getting back,” Brown said. “I’m excited about it.”

He has watched Raiders film already and likes what he has seen from this group. Brown helped run the Bengals defense until recently. He was released on Tuesday, spent a couple days as a free agent and now is with a new team.

He goes from a winless crew to one in the playoffs, an intriguing aspect of this new gig.

[RELATED: Crosby-Mullen bond leads to winning plays vs. Bengals]

“It’s really cool, especially coming from an 0-9, now 0-10 team,” Brown said. “There’s a lot more life, a lot more energy over here. That’s fun to be around.”

The Raiders are Brown’s third team in six seasons. He spent his first four NFL years as a full-time starter in Buffalo before moving on to Cincinnati in 2018. He wasn’t as integral to that team. His best season came in 2017, when he had 101 tackles and three passes defensed.

Raiders-Chiefs Week 13 AFC West matchup flexed to afternoon slot

Raiders-Chiefs Week 13 AFC West matchup flexed to afternoon slot

Remember back in Week 3 when the Raiders were licking their wounds after being dismantled by the Vikings to open their five-game road trip?

Jon Gruden's club was 1-2, two games back of the Chiefs in the AFC West with four consecutive road games staring them in the face. The AFC West crown was the Chiefs and no one would be told otherwise.

How the tables have turned.

The Raiders survived their road odyssey and returned home to win three straight games to head into a Week 12 matchup with the Jets at 6-4. The Chiefs, meanwhile, hit some road bumps. They dropped games to the Colts and Texans before quarterback Patrick Mahomes dislocated his knee cap.

Backup quarterback Matt Moore went 1-1 in relief. Mahomes returned in Week 10, but KC's defense was gashed on the ground by the Titans and they fell to ... 6-4.

Gruden and old friend Andy Reid still have one more showdown on the calendar, with the Raiders' Week 13 visit to Arrowhead Stadium possibly serving as the AFC West title game. 

As such, the NFL has opted to flex the Dec. 1 game from the 10 a.m. PT window to the 1:25 p.m. PT slot. The move shifts the Browns-Steelers matchup into the 10 a.m. PT slot. The 49ers-Ravens game will remain in the 10 a.m. PT slot with the NFL opting to keep Patriots-Texans as the Sunday night game.

[RELATED: Raiders rookie class having profound impact on season]

The Chiefs still have to play the Chargers on Monday night in Mexico City. A loss will drop them a half-game behind the Raiders heading into their bye week. A win will ensure the AFC West rivals will be in a virtual tie at 7-4 -- with KC holding the head-to-head tiebreaker -- should the Raiders beat the Jets at MetLife Stadium in Week 12.

Gruden's Raiders have fought tooth and nail to survive injuries, a brutal schedule and the loss of Antonio Brown to give themselves a shot at the playoffs and even the division title. The Chiefs beat the Raiders at the Coliseum in Week 2, with Mahomes accounting for four second-quarter touchdowns in a 28-10 win.

This is a different Raiders team. One with an offensive identity and rookies growing more comfortable with each victory put under their belt.

The Chiefs' run defense is primed to be gashed by Josh Jacobs and the Raiders' offensive line. Oakland's banged-up secondary could be an issue against Mahomes. It's going to be quite the showdown at Arrowhead.

Knock on wood, if you're with us.