Hunter Renfrow

Five Raiders to watch in Week 3: All eyes on Josh Jacobs vs. Vikings

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AP

Five Raiders to watch in Week 3: All eyes on Josh Jacobs vs. Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS – The Raiders start a brutal stretch of road games on Sunday in Minnesota, and find themselves labeled underdogs right off the bat against the Vikings.

Oakland has the talent and game-day coaching to earn an upset at U.S. Bank Stadium, but these five Raiders must make key contributions to make it happen.

RB Josh Jacobs

The rookie running back has been effective when give the chance, churning out tough yards and taking chunks working in space. The Alabama product can do everything well, from rushing inside while making smart cuts to zone reads. He can be effective out of the backfield as well, and this might be a game Jacobs can control both in terms of time of possession and steady scoring.

The more attention Jacobs draws, the easier life will be on a passing game heavily reliant on Tyrell Williams and Darren Waller. Jacobs had 24 touches in a season-opening win over the Denver Broncos, and needs an equally heavy workload on Sunday. He has been dealing with an illness making its way through the locker room – coach Jon Gruden didn’t like Jacobs announcing that fact on social media – but must persevere for the Raiders to beat a tough NFC team on the road.

DT Johnathan Hankins

Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook has been the NFL’s most productive running back through two weeks. He has 265 yards and three touchdowns, gaining an impressive 6.5 yards per carry.

Cook will square off against a surprisingly effective Raiders run defense ranked fifth in the NFL with 63 rushing yards allowed per game. The Silver and Black have been tough to run against thus far, thanks in large part to Johnathan Hankins’ excellent interior line play.

Hankins has been collapsing plays on the inside with regularity, allowing others to fly downhill and make plays on the ball carrier. He lately has been playing most every down, which is a rarity on the defensive front, and the 27-year-old has proven impactful against the run and pass.

“He’s a load in there, and he can move,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said this week. “He’s a big, athletic guy who’s playing some on third down for us now, so he’s shown in the training camp that he can rush. He’s just not this big nose who can play the run and rush some.”

WR Hunter Renfrow

The Raiders need receiving targets not named Tyrell Williams or Darren Waller to take some heat off the top two guys. Renfrow’s certainly capable of creating quick separation and making tough catches. He has to prove quarterback-friendly and take advantage of single coverage inside to keep the chains moving.

If Renfrow’s especially impactful on third downs, the Raiders can be more threatening than they were after the first quarter last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. He only has six catches for 43 yards on 11 targets, which isn’t efficient or productive enough. The Clemson product must do better in Week 3.

DE Arden Key

The second-year pro has not followed a solid training camp and preseason with production in games that actually count. Key’s snap count has dipped a bit, but the LSU product must be more disruptive for the Raiders pass rush to reach another gear. The Raiders have done a good job stopping the run and setting up pass-rush opportunities that aren’t being maximized.

Key has the talent to make big plays -- if he can find ways to finish.

“He’s getting close each and every week,” Guenther said. “It’s going to come. It’s a lot like turnovers, everyone is saying, ‘Hey, you need turnovers!’ One of the things I’ve always said is, if you’re in position and you’re doing the things the right way, turnovers and sacks and those types of things come in bunches, so don’t press. Just keep working your techniques, keep working your moves and get off the ball.”

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C Rodney Hudson

The Vikings have a savvy, talented defensive front capable of causing trouble, one the Raiders offensive line must manhandle against the run and pass despite some injury issues. Trent Brown and Denzelle Good are both questionable heading into this contest, so Hudson must orchestrate the line well regardless of who is playing. Richie Incognito returns after a two-game suspension, so Hudson must integrate him well and assist whomever lines up at right guard.

The Raiders offense falls apart without solid line play, so Hudson must play like the elite talent he is to keep the line going strong.

Hunter Renfrow learns from Antonio Brown, is ready to help Raiders win

Hunter Renfrow learns from Antonio Brown, is ready to help Raiders win

ALAMEDA -- Hunter Renfrow was a preferred walk-on at Clemson. He played in three straight College Football Playoffs, won two national championships and caught the game-winning touchdown to beat Alabama in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. He's no stranger to pressure. 

Now, after being drafted by the Raiders in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Renfrow is preparing to make his NFL debut as the Silver and Black's starting slot receiver when the Raiders face the Denver Broncos on Monday night. 

You'd expect the rookie to have some butterflies or anxiety about stepping onto the field for his first NFL game -- it's only natural as you prepare to achieve a lifelong goal -- but Renfrow knows he belongs. 

"I was a lot more nervous (before my first game) at Clemson," Renfrow told NBC Sports California on Wednesday. "I didn't know if I was good enough. Here we've had a good month-and-a-half of practice. Like I was saying, to go against Lamarcus Joyner and he's one of the NFL's best. Just challenging myself to beat him in practice, and if I do that, hopefully, I won't be overwhelmed come Monday night." 

Renfrow entered training camp in an apparent position battle to be the starting slot receiver, but he quickly won that with his uncanny knack for getting open and steady hands. He also has a number of veterans to lean on for advice, including one of the game's best -- Antonio Brown.

While Brown wasn't around the team all the time during camp, Renfrow already has learned a lot from the four-time All-Pro. 

"Just being around him, he's so fun," Renfrow said. "He brings out the best in everybody. Just the way he practices and the way he runs his routes. He sells everything vertical. As a receiver, if you can get the DB to think you're running vertical, it opens up everything and so it's fun to watch him and he's a special player, and I'm excited to watch him Monday night as well." 

The Raiders were a disappointing 4-12 last season, a teardown project that equated to a Year 0 under coach Jon Gruden. 

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock injected youth and talent into the roster, with Renfrow and two of his Clemson teammates -- edge rusher Clelin Ferrell and cornerback Trayvon Mullen -- serving as what the Raiders hope will be the foundation for a culture shift

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Despite being a fifth-round draft pick, Renfrow's stock is high and he is expected to be a key cog in an offense with all the tools to be one of the NFL's best. 

Renfrow, however, channeled his inner Al Davis when asked what his expectations were for himself in his first real NFL action. 

"Whatever it takes to win," Renfrow said. "Really. I mean, it's a one-game season. It doesn't matter to me if I catch 30 balls or three fumbles. That's what's important to me and I'm excited to be able to celebrate on Monday night." 

Who won? Evaluating Raiders' position battles as preseason winds down

Who won? Evaluating Raiders' position battles as preseason winds down

The Raiders have, at long last, reached the preseason’s final stretch. A handful of practices and Thursday’s largely inconsequential game at Seattle remain before final cuts. Coaches have been chipping away for a little while, but that’s when preparation for the regular-season opener begins in earnest.

There were roles to fill and a depth chart to set this summer in training camp and over the preseason slate, but most position battles have been settled. Some were settled quickly, others took most of camp and new ones emerged during the Raiders’ time in Napa. We’ll update those position battles, declaring victors in some instances and identifying leaders in those still undecided.

Let’s go over pre-camp position battles turned out before moving on to some newer ones:

SLOT RECEIVER

Hunter Renfrow vs. Ryan Grant

Renfrow took control of this battle early, with an impressive start to camp. He proved reliable, with precise routes and soft hands. He built trust with Derek Carr, while Grant faded into the background. The veteran didn’t lie down, putting solid practices together against the Rams backed by two quality preseason performances.

It’s possible both guys make the roster, though Grant might be trade bait for the right opportunity. The back end of the receiver group remains in the air, but Renfrow’s a roster lock after giving opponents fits in camp.

Victor: Renfrow

BACKUP QUARTERBACK

Mike Glennon vs. Nathan Peterman

This one was tight early, but Glennon pulled away in Napa and seems to have the No. 2 spot locked up after largely effective preseasons. That doesn’t mean Peterman has been bad, or is off the roster soon.

The 25-year old has been solid in preseason games and improved in practices while gaining confidence, and could well prompt the Raiders to keep three quarterbacks. He has better long-term upside and head coach Jon Gruden might not be ready to give up on his pet project.

Victor: Glennon

LINEBACKER

Brandon Marshall vs. Marquel Lee

There was some question how Marshall would fare after missing offseason program practices, especially coming off injuries, but the veteran has been steady while getting into tip-top football shape.

He has worked almost exclusively with the first unit in camp, with Lee as the strongside backup. He has gotten some work in the middle, where he has played the longest.

Marshall worked with Vontaze Burfict in the sub packages, but Tahir Whitehead has done some of that lately. It’s uncertain at this point who comes out when slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner comes in, but Marshall has been a first-unit fixture heading into the regular season.

Victor: Marshall

TIGHT END

Derek Carrier vs. Luke Willson

The top end of the depth chart was set in the offseason. Darren Waller is the primary receiving tight end, someone who moves around the formation. Foster Moreau was the primary in-line blocker. Finding the third member of the fraternity was tough.

Carrier looks like the guy, especially after an excellent touchdown catch against Arizona and the fact he didn’t play with starters and important role players skipped Thursday’s preseason game in Canada.

Odds-on favorite: Carrier

PUNTER

Johnny Townsend vs. A.J. Cole

This one ended fast, with Townsend waived shortly after the first preseason game. Cole ran away with it in Napa practice periods and in games, showing power and the hang time that helps punt coverage.

Cole was consistent while Townsend was erratic and largely ineffective, prompting the Raiders to punt last year’s fifth-round draft pick for an undrafted kid signed after a rookie minicamp tryout.

Victor: Cole

Some position battles over specific regular-season roles have emerged over the course of training camp. Let’s take a closer look at those …

FULLBACK

Keith Smith vs. Alec Ingold

This one was created by circumstance. Smith repaired a torn meniscus just days before training camp, giving Ingold opportunities aplenty. The undrafted free agent took full advantage in games and practices.

Smith returned with a vengeance during Thursday’s preseason game vs. Green Bay, scoring a touchdown while making his presence known. He’s a respected core special teams player who won’t give up without a fight.

The Raiders should be able to get Ingold onto the practice squad -- few teams require fullbacks anymore -- so the Silver and Black can keep both guys in the building.

Odds-on favorite: Smith

SWING TACKLE

Brandon Parker vs. David Sharpe

Parker seemed to have this gig locked up during the offseason program, but he slipped up a few times this summer and Sharpe has played tough despite dealing with injuries. The Raiders have both players working on the right and left, as they try to identify a super sub on the flanks.

Parker still seems like the guy. He’s bigger and athletic with room to improve, and the Raiders also spent a third-round pick on him just last year.

Favorite: Parker

RIGHT GUARD

Jordan Devey vs. Denver Kirkland

Gabe Jackson’s knee injury created a vacancy in the starting lineup, temporarily at least. Gruden said interior super sub Devey would get first crack at the position, and has taken ownership of it thus far. He sat while Kirkland played on Thursday, another sign that a hierarchy has been formed.

The Raiders could shake things up before or after final cuts if Devey doesn’t inspire confidence.

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Denzelle Good’s also a factor here, especially if he can prove healthy after missing most spring and summer work recovering from back surgery.

Odds-on favorite: Devey

NOTE: You don't see a discussion on the sixth receiver or whether the Raiders will keep a fifth running back or an extra lineman here. That comes later. Such roster math fits into our final 53-man roster projection, which will come out early Monday morning.