ALAMEDA – Hunter Renfrow started his rookie season as ancillary option in the Raiders passing game. The fifth-round draft quickly earned his spot at the team's primary slot receiver, but it took some time to create the quick separation that was his signature at Clemson. That gave him the opportunity to make one clutch collegiate play after another and, in recent weeks, Renfrow had started doing similar things in the pros.
He caught a long touchdown in Houston. He caught the game-winning score against Detroit. He had more catches and receiving yards than anyone else the past five weeks.
The term ‘Third-and-Renfrow" had become a thing on game day, with quarterback Derek Carr targeting him frequently to move the chains. He had 23 first downs on his 36 total catches for 369 yards, most of which had come over the last month or so.
That's why losing him at this point is such a big deal. Renfrow suffered a rib injury and reportedly punctured his lung on Sunday against the New York Jets and is out a few weeks at least and it's a possibility he's done for the rest of this season.
"It's a big, big loss for us," Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. "We've had a lot of turnover at that position this year, it's really too bad. I'll say this, Renfrow is going to be a great Raider. He's really been playing good for us."
Gruden listed off an few options to replace Renfrow in the slot. Keelan Doss was the first. He has experience and ability to play inside, but had a tough time earning an active roster spot on game day. Zay Jones played a ton in the slot in college but hasn't done much of that here and hasn't become a primary target after being acquired from Buffalo.
Tight ends Darren Waller and Derek Carrier can move around the formation. Waller already plays some in the slot, though coverage will follow him anywhere. Life might get even tougher on Waller without another trusted target, meaning coach must continue to scheme him open and find moments to get him involved.
The Raiders need more from Tyrell Williams on the outside as well. He has had less than 50 yards in three of the past four weeks and had a key drop against the Jets and in a few other games. He also hasn't been steady enough in contested catch situations.
"I think he's had some foot problems," Gruden said. "He's missed a lot of time. He's missed some games, and I don't know if he's 100% but he's giving us everything he has and I admire him. I think he's a good player. He's fighting some tough times. He knows we need him.
"It has been a tough year at our receiving position. He's had some tough moments. He's also had some really good moments and hopefully we'll see the best of him down the stretch."