Jon Gruden poured praise onto Hunter Renfrow talking to reporters earlier this week, waxing poetic about his speed, hands and overall skillset. Per Vic Tafur of The Athletic, “Renfrow seems to have already won the starting slot receiver role” without yet taking a snap in the preseason.
Gruden is falling head over heels for Renfrow, the Oakland Raiders’ 2019 fifth-round pick and projected starter at slot receiver, and for good reason.
The former Clemson walk-on earned a 79.4 receiving grade across 663 routes run in the slot over the past two seasons, ranking tied for 26th among the 182 FBS pass-catchers with 300 or more routes run from the slot in 2017 and 2018 combined. He also ranked ninth in percentage of receptions resulting in a first down or touchdown (48.2%) among the same group of qualifiers.
Renfrow’s 83.8 receiving grade on third and fourth downs across the 2017 and 2018 seasons ranked sixth among the 201 FBS pass-catchers with 100 or more routes run from the slot of such downs in the two-year span. He also ranked sixth in percentage of third- and fourth-down targets resulting in a first down or touchdown (61.1%).
And it’s not surprising that Gruden has already taken notice of Renfrow’s sure-handedness.
The 5-foot-10, 184-pound Renfrow ranked fourth in percentage of contested targets caught (66.7%) among the 109 FBS receivers with 10 or more contested targets from the slot over the past two years. He also ranked first in drop rate from the slot (1.83%) among the 58 FBS receivers with 100 or more slot targets since 2017.
Renfrow’s overall skillset is surely a sight for sore eyes in Oakland, as well.
Among the 48 NFL pass-catchers with 650 or more routes run from the slot from 2015-18, former Raiders and new Baltimore Ravens slot receiver Seth Roberts ranked dead last in yards per route run (1.07), 40th in passer rating when targeted (87.9), 45th in drop rate (11.3%), 43rd in percentage of targets resulting in a touchdown or first down (34.7%) and dead last in receiving grade (56.1). And he still managed to run the sixth-most routes in the slot of any NFL player in the four-year span.
Targeting the slot over the past four seasons — all of which Roberts was the primary slot receiver — Oakland ranks outside the top-25 in successful play percentage, expected points added (EPA) per play and positive EPA percentage.
Gruden’s obsession with his rookie slot receiver is likely two-fold: 1) Renfrow is tailor-made for the Gruden Grinder nomenclature and possesses an impressive skill set, and 2) all signs point to him being a massive upgrade over Roberts.