Hunter Renfrow: The Slot Machine

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Hunter Renfrow doesn’t fit the typical mold of a Raiders wide receiver. Historically, the Raiders have featured some of the fastest, most athletically gifted wide receivers in the NFL. The Raiders are synonymous with the word speed. Speedsters such as Cliff Branch, Tim Brown, Amari Cooper, James Jett, Warren Wells, Art Powell, Willie Gault, Randy Moss, Mervyn Fernandez, Jerry Porter, and Darius Heyward-Bey have all donned the Silver and Black.

If you left a vapor trail behind you at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, there’s a strong likelihood on draft weekend you’d receive a phone call from a 510 (Oakland) or 702 (Las Vegas) area code.

A Different Type of Prospect

Prior to the 2019 NFL Draft, the slot wide receiver position was largely ignored by the Raiders in favor of burners on the outside. All of that changed when the Raiders moved up in the 5th round to select Hunter Renfrow out of Clemson University.

During his four years at Clemson, Renfrow helped the Tigers win two National Championships. He cemented his place in Clemson history by catching the game-winning touchdown from quarterback Deshaun Watson with one second left. He finished the game with 10 receptions for 92 yards and 2 TD’s.

Entering the 2019 NFL Draft, Renfrow’s professional future was murky at best. There was little doubt that he would be drafted on Day 3. During his time with the Tigers, no player was more clutch in pressure situations as no stage was too big for him. Legend has it, nobody at Clemson ever saw him drop a pass his entire time there. What was in doubt is how he would transition to the NFL.

Hunter Renfrow’s measurables were not impressive on paper and neither was his physical appearance. Although his hands snatched balls out of the air as if they were coated in Gorilla Glue, his catch radius is limited, his straight line speed doesn’t scare DBs, and he won’t win many 50/50 balls. What he does have is tremendous short area quickness, an uncanny ability to throttle down his routes and dart off in a completely different direction once the defender slows his feet. If you were to compare him to a high performance vehicle, a Dodge Challenger Hellcat he is not, rather think of him as a Lotus Exige.

As you can imagine, a player like Renfrow, who looks more like an accountant than an NFL wide receiver, has had his share of nicknames. At Clemson, the two most popular names were “Old Man” and “Third and Renfrow,” the latter for his penchant for converting third down situations to extend drives.

On draft night, Mike Mayock told Renfrow that he reminded him of the 1990’s TV show character Doogie Howser played by Neil Patrick Harris. Derek Carr calls him the “Substitute Teacher.” However, the most fitting nickname was bestowed upon him by Carl Cockerham who calls him “The Slot Machine.” NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah went a step further and gave it his stamp of approval on a national level.

During his collegiate career, Renfrow played in 53 games yet never eclipsed the 100 yard milestone in a game. Some scouts questioned if this would continue at the next level. If you can’t cross 100 yards in a college game, how would the physically limited “Old Man” do so in the pros?

It didn’t take long for Renfrow to silence his critics. Not only did he sail past the century mark in receiving yards his rookie season, but he did it in back-to-back games. The first time was against the Chargers when he tallied 7 receptions for 107 yards and a TD. Then the following week in Denver he notched 6 receptions for 102 yards and another TD.

Mixing it Up in the Passing Game

2020 saw the addition of wide receiver Henry Ruggs. The offense added the third dimension that it sorely lacked since Gruden returned to the Raider organization in 2018: mind-bending speed on the perimeter. Ruggs struggled with injuries and the physicality of the sport at the professional level.

Despite the troubles, he still made a sizeable impact. His mere presence alone is enough to command consistent double teams. This was especially apparent on third downs. In three receiver sets, Gruden would line Ruggs out wide, opposite of superstar tight end Darren Waller. Then he would motion The Slot Machine from the side of the field where Ruggs would be, towards the side of the field where Waller would be parked. Once the ball was snapped, quarterback Derek Carr would make the defense pick their poison.

If Ruggs was double-teamed, Carr would hit Waller on the crossing route. Take Waller away and Renfrow would sit in the hole created by the second defender the defense used to bracket Waller. Once you got tired of Renfrow stinging you time after time with his crafty ability to create separation, Ruggs would rip your heart out like he did vs. the Chiefs in Kansas City.

This season, the offense stands to be even more potent. A healthy Bryan Edwards joins Ruggs on the outside. Waller looks to earn his second consecutive Pro Bowl honor. Josh Jacobs is primed to have his best season yet, with a revamped offensive line that is better suited to fit the zone blocking scheme that offensive line coach Tom Cable favors.

Free agent addition Kenyan Drake adds a dual-threat element out of the backfield. When the offense must convert to keep the game alive, do not be surprised to see Carr resist the temptation of potentially rolling Snake Eyes on the craps table. Instead you’re much more likely to see him hit jackpot after jackpot by going back to his trusted Slot Machine.

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