MOBILE, Ala. — The most predictable result of the Senior Bowl came Tuesday morning – Clemson receiver Hunter Renfrow lost the weigh-in.
He checked in at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, still looking like the paperboy, getting mistaken for a Rivals.com reporter and fitting the athletic prototype of a varsity cross country runner.
Renfrow loses the tale of the tape but wins the game, which folks in Alabama know better than anyone. With Renfrow in town to prove a whole new set of skeptics wrong, America’s favorite walk-on-next door has the most compelling evidence why he shouldn’t be overlooked come the NFL draft.
That’s derived from Renfrow’s most distinct first-world problem – the aftermath of catching the game-winning touchdown to beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game in January of 2017. Renfrow ended up on the Sports Illustrated cover that immortalized arguably the biggest moment in school history, hauling in Deshaun Watson’s pass with six seconds left.
“I’ve signed well over 5,000,” Renfrow told Yahoo Sports. “It’s been a lot. The first year was close to 3,500 after the game.”
The second most predicable result of Senior Bowl week followed Renfrow’s underwhelming weigh-in, a flurry of ninja-like moves in one-on-on drills that reminded NFL executives why he’s been one of the most consistent and effective receivers in college football the past four seasons. The maestro of subtly creating separation was separating himself from his peers once again.
As Clemson has churned out high-end receiver after high-end receiver – from Sammy Watkins to DeAndre Hopkins to Mike Williams – there has remained little doubt among the Tigers staff, opposing coaches and NFL scouts that Renfrow will someday become a productive NFL receiver.
Renfrow is embracing the next chapter in his underdog story, as he’s here fighting to get drafted after four productive seasons at Clemson.
After five years on campus, 186 catches and 2,133 yards, Renfrow found himself peeking ahead at times this season. Renfrow stressed that he loves Clemson, but said that amount of time kept him fighting off complacency.
“I was so ready the last year to move on and start a new chapter in my life,” Renfrow said. “I was ready for a new change of scenery, focus on the details a little bit more. When you run the same offense for five years with the same coaching staff, you kind of lose grip on those small things you focus on when you’re learning something for the first time.”
Renfrow walked on at Clemson, earned a scholarship and eventually started more games than any wideout in school history. “And we’ve had some freakazoids,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott told Yahoo Sports.
Despite all he has accomplished – including that 10-catch, 92-yard, two-touchdown Picasso against Alabama two years ago – he readily acknowledges they’ll be another wave of skeptics pointing out his physical shortcomings.
“I didn’t weigh as much as everyone else, and I wasn’t as tall as everyone else,” Renfrow said after the Senior Bowl measurements. “I’m excited to go show it on the field that I belong and show I can go play with these guys.”
The overwhelming confidence that Renfrow will succeed in doing that was reinforced during the ample one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl practices. They’ve illuminated the defining traits of Renfrow, which he admits are tricky to quantify in a drill or with a physical measurement. While Renfrow will never run a 4.3 40-yard dash, he has a rare ability to separate from his defender.
Many of his practice drills here double as clinic tape for how to beat a defensive back, as he possesses an uncanny ability to duck in and out of cuts without slowing. Elliott was an engineer by trade before becoming a coach and offered this analysis of Renfrow’s unique skills. “He’s a technician, that’s why he’s able to get in and out of breaks,” Elliott said. “If you watch him, he’s able to sink his hips and have his weight distributed on the balls of his feet, where it needs to be.”
— riley auman (@AumanacDraft) January 22, 2019
Hunter Renfrow has been the quietest dominant I’ve ever seen pic.twitter.com/3au5putvO9
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) January 24, 2019
Professor Elliott continued with a 500-level course in route running: “You have to have the technique to be efficient at your break point. If you have any false steps, you waste any time at the break point, you’re going against elite athletes and they’re going to recover. He’s going to know how to stem his routes and use his head and shoulders to influence defenders to make them distribute their weight on their heels or their toes.”
That’s why Renfrow always ended up open on third-and-short when the whole stadium knew the ball would come his way. Will the same thing happen in the NFL? Scouts came away impressed with Renfrow this week, noticing his consistent knack for getting open. There’s a strong feeling somewhere in the middle or later rounds of Day 3 of the draft.
One college coach familiar with Renfrow stressed that he’ll need to be a system fit, somewhere the slot receiver is valued and there’s an emphasis on route running. Renfrow didn’t like the Edelman comparison, as he says his old Clemson teammate and mentor, Adam Humphries, is who he models himself after.
Addazio pointed to hearing Patriots coach Bill Belichick at a clinic explain why Renfrow will be successful. Belichick has a simple formula for wide receivers – he values guys who get open and catch the ball.
That’s the best descriptor of Renfrow, who did that time and again. “He’s going to be able to create separation,” Elliott said. “He’s done it against guys on our practice field, and he’s done it on the biggest stages against some of the best players in the country. I think he’s a draftable guy, to be honest with you. I think he’s a fourth-round pick.”
Renfrow has shown that all he needs is a chance, and bountiful results will follow. Don’t be surprised if he emerges as a reliable NFL receiver, nuanced route runner and persistent NFL pest. Anyone from Tuscaloosa, around the ACC and on the sideline in Mobile this week would be hard-pressed to argue.
After years of signing on his signature moment, he’s ready to create some separation from his star-kissed college career and sign up for a new one.
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