Reliability should help Hunter Renfrow find role in Raiders' offense


Reliability should help Hunter Renfrow find role in Raiders' offense

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.

Hunter Renfrow

Draft slot: No. 149 overall (Fifth round)
Position: Receiver
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 184 pounds
School: Clemson

Skill set

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.

Best-case scenario

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.

Worst-case scenario

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.

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Realistic expectations

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.

Why Gabe Jackson sees plenty of potential in Raiders offensive line


Why Gabe Jackson sees plenty of potential in Raiders offensive line

ALAMEDA -- Gabe Jackson was back in action after a long layoff Monday. The Raiders' star right guard hurt his knee during a joint training camp practice with the Los Angeles Rams and hadn’t worked out with the team since.

Just being back with his team was an accomplishment, an important step in his return to action after missing five games. The Raiders left him on the 53-man roster hoping he could be back before midseason.

That should happen. Jackson said he hopes to return Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. If that doesn’t work out, he should be ready for a Week 8 clash with the Houston Texans.

“I feel pretty good,” Jackson said Monday. “I’m excited to be back with my brothers. It has been a long time.”

Jackson went more than nine weeks between practices, a layoff that sent his position into flux. The Raiders tried several at right guard, settling on Denzelle Good as a quality placeholder on an offensive line off to a great start. The Raiders are averaging 4.9 yards per carry and rank fourth in pass-blocking efficiency.

Jackson will pair with longtime running mate Rodney Hudson on the interior and work with Trent Brown on what should be a dominant right side.

The 28-year-old was part of a dominant offensive line in 2016 that was integral to the Raiders' lone trip to the playoffs this decade. He believes this year’s line could compete with that one.

“I think we could be even better,” Jackson said. “If everybody stays the course and grinds it out, I think we could be pretty good.”

This offensive line operates in a different scheme but has executed well to this point. Jackson will energize and fortify the unit, which has been bolstered by Brown’s addition in free agency.

“I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I can say for sure Trent is a beast,” Jackson said. “When he first came here, I knew it would be fun to play with him. Watching the things he has done recently and since he has been here, he’s impressive.”

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Raiders coach Jon Gruden said that Jackson might be in his best shape, certainly over the past two seasons. Jackson did shy away from that compliment. He believes it’s warranted after training hard during this down period.

“I had some time to work on myself,” Jackson said. “There are some things I’m still working on, but I feel like I have gotten better. Now, I’m ready to get back at it and play.”

Zay Jones pushing hard to learn Raiders offense, make instant impact

Zay Jones pushing hard to learn Raiders offense, make instant impact

ALAMEDA -- Zay Jones was an active, engaged member of the Buffalo Bills offense this season, until a Week 5 contest against the Titans. The third-year receiver barely left the sideline that day in Nashville, a setback he considered temporary.

Jones had no idea that would be the last time he suited up for the team that drafted him. The East Carolina product was blindsided by the trade that sent him to the Raiders for a 2021 fifth-round NFL draft pick.

“I was shocked. I didn’t know it was coming,” Jones said. “I didn’t ask to be out of Buffalo, but it’s something that transpired. That’s the nature of the business. I wish those guys the best. I’m happy to be in this locker room and part of a team that really wanted me.”

Make no mistake: The Raiders need Jones to contribute as soon as humanly possible.

The Raiders receiving corps is an offensive weak link, with Tyrell Williams banged up and J.J. Nelson and Ryan Grant cut over injury, effectiveness or both. Williams is the only legitimate, established threat in the group, which has struggled to make dynamic plays downfield.

General manager Mike Mayock was a big Jones fan before the 2017 draft and said so as NFL Network’s premier draft analyst. Jones hasn’t lived up to his second-round draft status, with ho-hum numbers and just a 50 percent completion rate when targeted.

He had a solid year in 2018, with 652 yards and seven touchdowns on 56 catches. But he was targeted just 16 times in five games this season, showing the Bills considered him expendable. The Raiders need him right away and are pushing to prepare him as fast as possible.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden spent his bye week helping prepare Jones, who admittedly had his head spinning during this crash course in a complicated scheme.

“We hit the playbook pretty hard, trying to get me up to speed,” Jones said. “The offense is very complex. There’s a lot that goes into it. Some guys have been here since camp and I’ve been here for a few days. I’m trying to catch up as fast as I can.

“There are some situations where the head spins, but I think I’m getting it down. I just have to keep pressing, stay in the playbook and get to know the quarterbacks.”

Monday’s practice was the first working with Derek Carr and applying what he learned last week.

“I’m still evaluating the team and see how we operate,” Jones said. “I’m just going to control what I can and prepare like crazy to play the Green Bay Packers. It’s a day by day process, and this is Day 1 for me. I think it was trending in the right direction in terms of understanding everything. When the bullets are flying, it’s so much different than it looks on paper.

“…Each quarterback is different in terms of how they speak and their terminology, what they want and expect and how they throw the football. I was just talking with Derek earlier about what he wants and how he operates. It seems like he’s an unbelievable person. It’s about getting with him and understanding his timing. We’ll get that down and go from there.”

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Carr will be the best quarterback Jones has worked with, as he tries to spark his career just over halfway through his rookie contract.

“I’m coming into a situation where this is a good football team already,” Jones said. “To be just a small piece of it is an honor and a blessing.

“I’m going to give this team everything I have. I’m a playmaker. I’ve made plays in my career. I have put that on tape. Hopefully I can continue to keep making plays for this football team and get them to where they want to be.”