"Third and Renfrow" will ride again in 2019.
After suffering a rib injury Week 12 against the New York Jets, and then missing the following three games, Hunter Renfrow returned to work earlier this week, and looks poised to get back between the hash marks this week in Los Angeles.
"We're going to try to play him [Renfrow], perhaps let him catch a few punts," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "That's another position that obviously we've had a lot of turnover at. So, the plan is to play Hunter a little bit, get him back on the grass."
If Renfrow does indeed make his return to game action against the Los Angeles Chargers – which, again, is the expectation – not only would the rookie wideout provide some stability for a wide receiving corps that has had no shortage of changes in 2019, but also give Derek Carr another playmaker on the outside.
Even though he's missed a trio of games, Renfrow's 36 receptions still rank third on the team, as do his 396 receiving yards, and prior to his injury, the former Clemson Tiger was in the midst of the best stretch of football of his young career in Silver and Black.
"I think we were starting to hit a stride a little bit, but the things we did do in those games don't just go away," Renfrow said when asked about his rapport with Derek Carr. "I think, hopefully, we're building something for a while, so just every day at practice we're getting better and we really get better at practice, but you can prove it during the games, and that's where you get the confidence from."
"Hunter being back, I'll say we were on the same page obviously before he got injured," added Carr. "We had a really nice thing going, so there's nothing like live reps though. There is nothing like actually playing games and getting that feel back, so we'll have to do that. But getting a guy like that back, he's a guy that's been awesome for us. Not just on intermediate routes, but deeper routes, different kinds of things against some good players."
As Gruden mentioned, Renfrow will likely be used as both a punt returner and a wide receiver on offense come Sunday, but where the rookie will really make his impact felt is – you guessed it – on third down.
"Huge impact, because if we want to throw it to him he does a great job winning, but we also know teams know that and you can use him, whether you want to throw it to him or use him as a diversion," Carr explained when discussing Renfrow's uncanny productivity on third down. "Same thing with [Darren] Waller, same thing with Jalen. You can do those kinds of things with those guys when people are like, 'they want to get the ball to here.' It's nice because sometimes you'll actually throw it there and sometimes you'll actually just use them. Just having that element back, it just adds back to our offense."
And for a defense that hasn't put up more than 21 points since Week 10, any type of bump on the outside will be a welcome gift.
"I felt good today," Renfrow said. "It's been good just to run routes, and throw, and it makes you appreciate the times that you're able to. I think kind of sitting back and watching, there's things you can look at, and work on, and improve on, but just that itch to get back, it makes you appreciate [it]. Out there at practice today, I wasn't, 'oh, it's a tough practice, Thursday.' It was, 'I can't wait to run my routes.' It was a lot of fun."
Let's take a look at the Raiders' current 53-man roster heading into the regular season.