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.
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.
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.
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.”