Mike Mayock wasn’t thrilled when Hunter Renfrow ran the NFL combine’s 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds. The Raiders general manager was hoping for worse in that endeavor, to keep others off the scent of a sure-handed slot receiver he wanted in silver and black.
Renfrow had strong moments in the pre-NFL draft process and was attractive to many, but ended up a Raider after Mayock traded up to get him. He has impressed in the early going, with a real chance to impact this year’s offense. Let’s discuss what to expect from the Clemson product.
Draft slot: No. 149 overall (Fifth round)
Weight: 184 pounds
Renfrow’s measurable won’t wow, even at the college level, but Renfrow simply finds ways to make plays. The man has a penchant for coming through in the clutch, with steady hands and an ability to create enough separation with smarts and route precision that make up for what he lacks in raw athleticism. Football knowledge will help him at the line of scrimmage, where he’ll likely be pressed without fear he’ll run by slot cornerbacks. He’s solid at making catches in traffic, another asset that will play in the pros.
Training camp proving ground
There’s always an adjustment period for rookies starting NFL work, but Raiders coaches were impressed by Renfrow’s steady improvement during the offseason program. Progress was shown in OTAs and minicamp, a positive step for a slot receiver who’s learning every receiver position. That’s a Jon Gruden mandate for everyone in the corps, though doing well in the slot could be the fast way to significant snaps. Renfrow’s a quick study and an excellent route runner, so that’s a challenge he’ll continue to meet once training camp begins.
Showing up in practice, especially in first-unit work, will help build chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr that could earn targets down the road.
Steady preseason progress could lead to Renfrow starting his rookie season as the Raiders' starting slot receiver. He has tons of experience and is known for performing under pressure, making such lofty expectations realistic.
He has football smarts, and could be a real asset on third down thanks to the ability to create just enough space and always know where the first-down marker sits. He’ll compete with veterans to win the right to be the primary slot option, but he has a real shot to win the gig.
Renfrow’s Clemson production or clutch play was almost always awesome despite a relative lack of athleticism. He overcame that in college, but it may become problematic in the pros.
Things will get hard during intense, physical training camp practices where defensive backs will try to disrupt his timing. It’s possible he could get swallowed in coverage by talented defensive backs, especially when battling a top slot cornerback like Lamarcus Joyner. He’ll have to show well against that level of talent to be a presence on Sundays this fall.
The Raiders have other slot options, including highly regarded veteran Ryan Grant. Any slip-ups or struggles playing outside could also drop Renfrow down the depth chart and into a precarious spot. While there’s little chance he could get left off the roster, a spot will have to be earned in a competitive position group with few openings available.
Grant is trying to get his career going strong after last year’s hiccup in Indianapolis, and he will be highly motivated to make a significant impact working on a one-year contract. Beating him for a regular role, especially one inside, may prove difficult.
Renfrow will be in the mix for sure, and he should carve out ways to contribute as a rookie. He might not start the season as the No. 3 guy or regular slot receiver, but his role could increase over time if he proves as reliable as he was in college.