The Emergence of Hunter Renfrow

Source: Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports

With one week left in the 2021 regular season, the Las Vegas Raiders are on the cusp of their first postseason appearance since 2016. Merely three weeks ago, the Raiders were on the precipice of being eliminated from playoff contention following a 48-9 drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. Las Vegas has had to rely heavily on their veterans to step up and help pull the team out of the darkness. One player in particular who has made a massive jump is WR Hunter Renfrow.

Three wins later after the loss to the Chiefs, the Raiders are back in playoff contention. In a season filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, and a slew of unfortunate events, not many predicted the Raiders would be in the spot that they are in now, and not many predicted the kind of season Renfrow has produced.

Renfrow has been having a career year in 2021, notching 99 receptions for 1025 yards and seven touchdowns, all team highs. In what has been one of the most tumultuous years in the history of the franchise, Renfrow has been a steady presence on the field. QB Derek Carr has routinely looked to his third-year wideout in big situations.

When asked to comment on going over 1,000 yards in a season, Renfrow said: “That’s incredible. I’ve never really gauged my success off of yards or catches or anything like that, but I’m not gonna lie to you that did seem like something out of the realm of possibility. Coming in as a rookie and I never even had 600 yards in college. I just want to go out there and be the best receiver I can be.”

A fifth-round pick in 2019, no one would have guessed that Renfrow was primed for big things. Seen as a serviceable slot receiver with average athleticism, Renfrow was predicted to be solid depth for the team but not a crucial aspect of the offense.

Right away, the Clemson product showed that he was anything but average, catching 71 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns. What he lacked in stature and athleticism, Renfrow more than made up for with a gritty work ethic and making tough catches look routine. Over the next year, Renfrow would carve out a bigger role for himself, becoming the starting slot receiver in 2020.

2021 would see Renfrow establish himself as one of the top slot receivers in the league. Plagued by a myriad of injuries and off-field issues, the group of pass catchers for the Raiders had been thinned out. In a dire time, Renfrow stepped up, his on field production skyrocketing all the while being looked at more and more as a team leader.

The value of Renfrow was never on display more than during Las Vegas’s victory over the Indianapolis Colts, a crucial game the Raiders needed to win in order to stay in playoff contention.

Early in the fourth quarter of that same game, Renfrow caught an 11-yard touchdown pass to put the Raiders on top 20-17. That catch pushed Renfrow over 1,000 yards on the season. Renfrow’s 99 catches on the season is third-most in Raiders history, trailing only Tim Brown’s 104-catch season in 1997 and Darren Waller’s 107-catch season in 2020. The Clemson product is firmly solidified as one of the top receivers in franchise history just three years into his career.

The Raiders would go on to beat the Colts 23-20 on the back of Renfrow’s seven receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. That win kept the Raiders firmly in the playoff hunt with a massive game on the horizon. Week 18’s showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers is a winner-take-all scenario, with the winner advancing to the playoffs. Despite looking down and out just three weeks ago, the Raiders are on the brink of the playoffs and the heroics of Hunter Renfrow are no small part of that Las Vegas resurgence.

Despite his personal success this season, Renfrow has not lost sight of the team’s goal and that is a playoff appearance.

“A lot of adversity this year… it feels good to come out and really have some proof that we are [a playoff team],” Renfrow said after the win against the Colts. “And so all that means is we’ve got to win next week. We put ourselves in a good chance to win next week and we are in the playoffs. That’s what we’ve all talked about since the beginning. Just give us a chance in the dance.”

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