Raiders are in good hands with Hunter Renfrow joining receiving corps

Raiders are in good hands with Hunter Renfrow joining receiving corps

ALAMEDA -- From 2014 to 2017, no quarterback in the NFL suffered more dropped passes by his receivers than the Raiders' Derek Carr.

Upon Jon Gruden's return to Oakland, he set out to address that ugly stat. He sent away the most egregious of droppers, and brought in several new receivers, most notably Jordy Nelson. The overhaul brought about moderate improvement, as the Raiders tied for the seventh-most drops in the NFL in 2018 with 22, after dropping 38 passes the year prior and a whopping 45 drops in 2016. 

Still, there's plenty of room for improvement remaining in that category, and Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have approached the current offseason with that in mind.

First, they traded for Antonio Brown, arguably the top receiver in the league with as good of hands as you'll find.

They followed that up with the signing of Tyrell Williams, an accomplished receiver in his own right that has the size and athleticism to make tough catches look simple.

And, then, in the fifth round of the draft, they selected a 5-foot-9 receiver with the No. 149 overall pick, who had the smallest hands of any pass-catcher at the NFL Combine.

Wait, what?

Not to worry, Raiders fans. Hunter Renfrow has made a habit of playing bigger than he appears.

The same receiver who caught 10 passes for 92 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the 2016 National Championship Game against Alabama, who began at Clemson as a walk-on, has "the best hands of anyone in this entire draft," according to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah.

Over his final two seasons at Clemson, Renfrow was targeted 143 times. He dropped two of those passes.

Renfrow also caught 66.7 percent of his contested targets in the last two seasons, ranking fourth in the FBS, according to Pro Football Focus.

So how does a diminutive receiver with relatively tiny hands rise from walk-on to NFL draft pick? It starts with the parents, naturally.

Renfrow's father, Tim, was his football coach at Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. But that's not where Hunter gets his great hands from, according to the man himself.

"I like to credit my mom," Renfrow said with a smile Friday at the opening of rookie minicamp. "My dad was my high school coach, but my mom would go out there and throw footballs to me, and they were never accurate. They were up here, they were down there, I'd have to be diving everywhere."

The vast majority of Renfrow's college receptions came out of the slot. That's where his expertise lies, but now with the Raiders, he could be asked to line up elsewhere occasionally.

"The big thing for Hunter is that he needs to understand we're going to move Antonio Brown around a lot," Gruden said Friday. "If we move Brown a lot, that means he has to be able to move around and do a lot of things. Not just line and be a slot receiver every single down. He could move to the right or left, play inside or outside. He'll have to do it all."

Renfrow, to his credit, isn't daunted by that possibility. While he's definitely comfortable in the slot, he doesn't view himself as a specialist.

"Kind of my whole thing is, I'm a receiver," Renfrow said. "I'm not a slot receiver, I'm not an outside receiver, I'm just a receiver. It's kind of like playing in the backyard. You're just expected to go catch a football, and that's kind of the mentality that I have."

It's a good thing Renfrow isn't intimidated by a challenge, because he's about to enter a stiff competition.

[RELATED: Why three of 10 Raiders UDFA signings can make the team]

In addition to Brown and Williams, both Dwayne Harris and free-agent signee Ryan Grant would seem to be locks to make the 53-man roster as receivers. That likely leaves two remaining spots for Renfrow, J.J. Nelson, Marcell Ateman and undrafted free agent Keelan Doss. While the Raiders invested a fifth-round pick in Renfrow, he'll have to put that versatility on display in order to lock one down.

So, how does Renfrow plan to separate himself from the pack? The answer lies in playing to his strengths.

"I'm not the biggest guy, I'm not the fastest," Renfrow admitted. "But I feel like I can outthink people at times. I think that's such a big part of the game that people don't realize. I mean, you gotta be able to play, definitely, but you can outthink people, outwork people. And a guy who knows what he's going to do before he does it is a lot more dangerous than a guy who's out there big and fast, but has no clue what's going on."

Renfrow's relative size and speed disadvantages will only be exacerbated with the move to the NFL, but then again, he's already proven he has the ability to adjust. After being a two-star recruit coming out of high school, with scholarship offers from football powerhouses Appalachian State, Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian, and Wofford, Renfrow departed Clemson with the Burlsworth Trophy, given to the top college football player who began his career as a walk-on.

As the Raiders remain intent on eliminating drops and with Renfrow now in tow, it appears they couldn't be in better hands.

Patrick Mahomes' contract puts pressure on Raiders for perfect rebuild

Patrick Mahomes' contract puts pressure on Raiders for perfect rebuild

When Jon Gruden arrived back in Oakland armed with a 10-year contract for his second tenure as Raiders head coach, he knew the Kansas City Chiefs were setting the pace in the AFC West and that the Raiders had to be rebuilt from the foundation up in order to catch them.

Two years later, Patrick Mahomes has won an MVP and a Super Bowl title, becoming the face of the league in less than 24 months. During that time, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have stripped the roster down and started a careful rebuild by drafting prospects from championship programs, with an emphasis on closing the gap between them and their division rivals.

Some might get impatient when seeing a five-game gap between the two teams last season. With last year's 40-9 embarrassment at Arrowhead Stadium still lingering in the back of the mind, it's easy to push for more drastic moves that could help close the gap on Mahomes and the Chiefs sooner. But Mahomes isn't going anywhere, not for a long time, and that means the Raiders must avoid the usual rebuilding pitfalls as they construct Gruden and Mayock's vision.

On Monday, the Chiefs and Mahomes agreed to a 10-year contract extension that will make the star quarterback the richest player in the NFL at $450 million, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

With Mahomes set to be the king of the AFC West for the next 11 to 12 years, it's more imperative now than ever before that the Raiders stay the course of their rebuild and not go off-book, jeopardizing what is a successful foundation with risky moves meant to make up ground fast.

That means no Antonio Brown-style trades that send out draft capital for the promise of someone missing a few nuts and bolts walking the straight and narrow. The Raiders did the right thing by not chasing after Tom Brady, dolling out a giant contract to make a splash acquisition. They will have to do the same thing if Aaron Rodgers becomes available next offseason.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

The Gruden-Mayock method to this point has been sound. They nailed a 2019 draft class that saw them select a feature running back, an up-and-coming slot receiver, a cornerback with lockdown potential and two edge rushers who will be long-term staples. That 2019 class has a dynastic vision for the future of the Silver and Black. They know they are the foundation and the key to a successful rebuild.

Gruden and Mayock then went to free agency this spring and spent heavily on defense, spreading out the money to address several problem areas that plagued a team with the 31st ranked defense by DVOA in 2019. In the 2020 NFL Draft, they went back to the blue-chip program well and added Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs, Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette and South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards, among others.

Stacking talented draft classes on top of one another is imperative when undergoing a full tear down and rebuild. One miss can set a franchise back half a decade.

But the Raiders have been lucky in that most of those catastrophic misses come when rebuilding teams either reach for or pass on a quarterback. The Raiders have not had to play quarterback roulette in the draft. Not yet. Having Derek Carr has allowed Gruden and Mayock to focus on building up the rest of the Raiders' roster without having to gamble a top pick on a quarterback like Daniel Jones or Jordan Love. They've restocked the offensive arsenal, crafted one of the best offensive lines in football and started to fortify a defense was an atrocity during the past two seasons.

It's unclear if Carr is the quarterback of the future, but having him, a capable signal-caller with undeniable arm talent, has given the Raiders a luxury not normally afforded to teams ripping everything down to the studs.

Mahomes' extension and extended presence in the AFC West will make the Raiders' quest for a division title worlds more difficult. Of that, there is no doubt. But it also allows Gruden and Mayock the ability to be patient and strategic as they head into Phase 2 of the rebuild.

With the ground floor laid, the Raiders have set themselves up for future success. If all goes according to plan, their offensive arsenal is locked in for the next four to five years. Ruggs, Edwards, Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow, all are cemented in silver and black and four of the five are on rookie contracts. Gruden and Mayock appear to be doing the same thing in their secondary with Arnette, Trayvon Mullen, Amik Robertson and Johnathan Abram all being drafted in the last two seasons.

To catch and contend with the Chiefs, you'll need the firepower to match the Legion of Zoom and a secondary capable of beating up and running with the track team assembled by Andy Reid. Gruden has been jealous of what his friend has at his disposal in Kansas City. So he drafted a Tyreek Hill of his own in Ruggs. They found a matchup nightmare at tight end in Darren Waller, matching what the Chiefs have in Kelce.

Next, the Raiders must mold a secondary that can hold up when extreme pressure is applied by Mahomes and his horsemen, and develop a pass rush that can get in his face, pressuring him off his spot. The 49ers, while surrendering 21 points in the final six minutes to lose the Super Bowl, showed the blueprint to make Mahomes look somewhat human. You need a fierce pass rush generated by four and corners and linebackers who can cover and tackle in space. That's why the Raiders signed Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and have invested heavily in the secondary.

The Raiders' focus is the Chiefs. Building an offense that can match them blow for blow and a defense that can step on Superman's cape every now and again.

[RELATED: Clowney-Raiders rumors more fantasy than reality right now]

The quarterback question still will remain for the Raiders. it's the most important and sexiest position in professional sports. Carr was on an island with few weapons in 2019. He still put up solid numbers, but the Raiders must see more to determine whether or not he's a franchise quarterback. Entering Year 3 in Gruden's system, the Raiders have given Carr a whole new arsenal of weapons and signed Marcus Mariota to push Carr to new heights or take the reins should Carr stumble. The 2020 season will be a prove-it year for Carr and he's set up to have a career year.

Mahomes' massive contract extension gives the Raiders time to fully determine whether or not Carr is the future under center and how best to address it if he is not. Should Carr flop in 2020, the Gruden and Mayock still have built a roster filled with budding young talent which will be ready to win once the rebuild is finished.

The Raiders slowly are building steam as they craft a roster that can compete with the reigning Super Bowl champions. But making the right moves becomes even more important for Gruden and Mayock with Mahomes set to be a Chief for the next decade.

One impulsive move to make up ground on Mahomes quickly and it all can come tumbling down. To catch the king, the Raiders now must play the long game.

Jadeveon Clowney-Raiders rumors more fantasy than reality at moment

Jadeveon Clowney-Raiders rumors more fantasy than reality at moment

The Raiders made massive improvements to their defense during the offseason, hoping to inject some life into a unit that ranked 31st in DVOA in 2019.

But with one big fish still swimming in the free agency ocean, the Silver and Black might not be done yet.

Jadeveon Clowney has been biding his time during free agency, waiting for an offer that matches what he believes he is worth. That number started at between $20-22 million and reportedly has been lowered to around $18 million. Clowney reportedly has an offer from the Cleveland Browns with the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans also in the mix.

On Monday. Cecil Lammey of 104.3 The Fan in Denver reported that the Raiders had joined the party and offered Clowney a contract. He also reported that head coach Jon Gruden would like to up the offer to get Clowney. Lammey reports the offer is lower than two or three other teams and owner Mark Davis and general manager Mike Mayock are hesitant to increase it.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

This is where we need to separate fantasy from reality.

Clowney is a talented player and he undoubtedly would help a Silver and Black pass rush that has struggled since Khalil Mack was shipped off to the Chicago Bears. Clowney is a sexy name and it's easy to automatically plug him on the Raiders' defensive line along with Maliek Collins, Maurice Hurst and Clelin Ferrell/Maxx Crosby and see an improved unit that can give teams problems in the AFC West.

But that $18-20 million is a massive price tag for a player whose production doesn't match the number he's currently asking for. Clowney notched just three sacks last season for the Seahawks and has yet to record a double-digit sack season since being draft with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Per Spotrac, Clowney's projected open-market is around $17.1 million. So his initial asking price already overshoots his on-field production and it's fair to see a number of teams asking to see more sacks, pressures and QB hits before paying the $17 million.

Clowney's health also is of concern. While the South Carolina product only has missed nine games in five seasons, there are some issues about the core and knee injuries he's sustained during his career. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it's difficult for players to travel and get evaluated by a team's medical staff and that makes owners unwilling to open their checkbook.

This brings us to the second hurdle in any Clowney-Raiders marriage. According to the NFL Player's Association public salary cap report, the Raiders currently have $7.9 million in cap space. But that number will shrink once the Raiders have agreed to terms with all of their recent draft picks, including first-round picks Henry Ruggs and Damon Arnette. At the moment, the Raiders still need to clear some cap space in order to sign their entire rookie class. They simply lack the cap space, at the moment, to add Clowney at the number he's been demanding.

Of course, there are always ways to fit a player in. But for the Raiders to add Clowney at the number he wants, it likely would require a large chunk of the cash to come in the form of a signing bonus and the Raiders still would have to clear space by cutting some players. Right guard Gabe Jackson's contract became guaranteed last month. Quarterback Derek Carr's contract is the Raiders' most pliable but he's set for what could be a career year in Las Vegas.

Plain and simple: It's difficult to see the Raiders finding a way to fit Clowney in at his preferred number.

[REALTED: Renfrow's growth key to Raiders' offensive resurgence]

The Raiders currently are relying on Crosby, Ferrell and free-agent addition Carl Nassib to provide the heat off the edge. Last season, the Raiders recorded just 32 sacks, a number that must improve for them to make way in a tough AFC West.

Increasing pressure on the quarterback is paramount for the Raiders, but Clowney isn't a double-digit sack maven. He's been more of a run-stopper during his NFL career and his production hasn't been equal to the contract he desires. He's a big name who will come with a price tag he hasn't earned.

If the Raiders can find a way to get him at a discount as the season approaches it obviously would be worth it. But right now, any pact between Clowney and the Raiders is more fiction than reality.