Updated June 3, 2022 - 5:09 pm
The critics have been silenced. The haters are now fans. Hunter Renfrow has officially made it as an NFL receiver.
A former fifth-round pick, the former Clemson star has taken giant steps forward each season, culminating in a breakout Pro Bowl campaign in 2021 when he had 103 catches for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns.
Anybody that still wants to say he’s too small or too slow to play receiver in the NFL must now preface those concerns by conceding he’s a Pro Bowler at the position.
But just because there’s very few people left to prove wrong doesn’t mean Renfrow is going to stop working at the same rate.
“I think it comes back to why do you do it?” he said after an OTA practice this week. “Do you do it for the praise of other people? Do you do it for the accolades? Or do you do it because you compete with yourself and you love it and for the people around you?
”If you can say yes to those last three things, then it’s pretty easy not to become complacent because every day you’re competing with yourself and trying to get better and you enjoy the competition.
“I know that’s probably a cliche answer, but sometimes cliche answers are the most sensible ones because they’re the most simple. It’s easy to get distracted by a lot of things, but if you just keep things simple then I think success will find you along the way.”
That formula certainly has worked for Renfrow, who made the third-year jump after catching 49 passes as a rookie and 56 in his second season.
The 26-year-old Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, native now enters his fourth season as the longest-tenured member of the Raiders’ wide receivers room. He has an understanding of the work that needs to be done in the offseason to prepare for the grind of an NFL campaign.
He is facing a new challenge, however. After three years of learning Jon Gruden’s offense, he must learn the system and terminology that coach Josh McDaniels and offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi brought with them from New England. Renfrow said this part of the process is mostly about perfecting the verbiage and processing what they system is trying to accomplish with each play.
“I think the offensive staff has come in and done a good job of explaining we’re not just going to run plays for no reason,” he said. “We’re going to have a good idea of why we’re running those plays to attack the defense and what they’re trying to take away from us.
“So it’s one getting used to them and two, this is the part of the offseason where you start to visualize the season. You’re not out there just running plays to run them. We’re installing an offense, but for me personally, I’m envisioning running that in Kansas City or wherever we have to play and trying to play those games within my mind.”
There’s reason to believe Renfrow’s success can be sustainable. While there is plenty of competition for targets with Darren Waller still at tight end and star receiver Davante Adams joining the team, their presence also will prevent defenses from making Renfrow their primary focus.
He doesn’t foresee any issue with having only one ball to spread among them, either.
“I certainly know Darren well and I’m starting to know Davante well,” he said. “Two very, very unselfish guys that I think put the team before themselves. That’s got to be the focus for all of us.
“Team success is far superior to individual success. It doesn’t matter if we have 50 catches apiece. As long as we’re winning, that’s the ultimate goal and the one that matters.”
Renfrow also doesn’t have to look far to see just how much slot receivers can thrive in McDaniels’ system. From Wes Welker to Julian Edelman to now Jakobi Meyers, the position has been a focal point for the Patriots.
“First, they’re all really good players. From Wes to Julian to Jakobi,” Renfrow said. “I think (McDaniels is) just very good at teaching the details of it and those guys did a good job. it’s a lot of work and he puts a lot on them, but I think you’re rewarded if you buy into what he has to say.
”They’ve had some good receivers and then it’s just being where you need to be and being consistent.”
Those traits certainly apply to Renfrow.