Working out of the slot on a first-down play Sunday in Buffalo, Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow raced 15 yards upfield, then rounded out his pass pattern into wide-open space within the Bills’ zone defense.
An astutely drawn-up play by coach Josh McDaniels, coupled with Renfrow’s precise execution, should have resulted in a big chunk play by the Raiders.
As it turns out, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t see Renfrow streaking across the middle of the field and instead checked down to DeAndre Carter for a minimal gain.
Just like that, the opportunity for a big play was lost, and so, too, was a chance to get Renfrow untracked.
Two games into the season, a player who was a focal point two years ago almost feels like an afterthought while catching one pass on one target.
Looks can be deceiving, as the example from Sunday proves. Renfrow’s struggles have less to do with his utilization or what the former Clemson star is or isn’t doing.
“Hunter’s done his job the right way,” McDaniels said.
The film suggests Renfrow and Garoppolo just aren’t in sync.
“There’s been some missed opportunities on our part,” McDaniels said.
As frustrating as that might be, it actually bodes well for an eventual breakthrough by Renfrow and his new quarterback. A foot injury sidelined Garoppolo throughout the offseason, so his work with Renfrow has been limited to training camp and the first two games. That isn’t much time to build chemistry with Renfrow or anyone else.
That includes the trust-building process of being able to make throws under pressure while intuitively knowing where to deliver the ball to maximize the intended target.
“Against a good defense, you’re going to have to make some plays like that moving the pocket and giving your guys opportunities,” Garoppolo said.
The problem isn’t exclusive to Renfrow. There also have been missed opportunities with Davante Adams and Michael Mayer. Star running back Josh Jacobs has not gotten untracked, either.
All of it has contributed to an offensive operation that has been limited to 17 and 10 points.
“I would say I’m disappointed just in our overall ability to be more productive than what we’ve been,” McDaniels said.
It just feels more pronounced with Renfrow, who has seemingly faded into the background since catching 103 passes for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021.
That production earned him a two-year contract extension worth up to $32 million, with $21 million guaranteed, in June 2022.
“Hunter is one of the true leaders on this team, and he exemplifies the values of the organization in how he comes to work every day,” McDaniels said at the time.
Then came the season. Between the injuries he dealt with and a slow transition to the new offense under McDaniels, Renfrow finished with 36 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns.
Now healthy and coming off an impressive training camp, he was expected to be a major part of the offense. It hasn’t worked out that way, though.
Only this time, it doesn’t appear to be an issue with Renfrow’s understanding of his role. As Sunday showed when he worked his way into open space, he should have been rewarded
“He should have gotten the ball more than he did,” McDaniels said.
It’s a point that will be reiterated this week to Garoppolo, who no doubt saw the missed opportunity during film study.
That doesn’t mean a Renfrow turnaround is imminent. But it could be a matter of time.
“Much to improve upon, but I’m not concerned about Hunter,” McDaniels said.
Who: Steelers at Raiders
When: 5:20 p.m. Sunday
Where: Allegiant Stadium
Radio: KRLV-AM (920), KOMP-FM (92.3)
Line: Raiders -2½; total 43