Clemson vs South Carolina

Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) will be ready to play quarterback if needed Saturday against Wake Forest. Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — For Hunter Renfrow, leaving Clemson early for the NFL Draft was never going to be in the cards after the Tigers' 2017 season.

He had a couple of other priorities first he wanted to accomplish as a college student first before heading to the next level.

"Yeah, I'm coming back," he said with a gentle smirk ahead of Clemson's 2017 Sugar Bowl matchup with Alabama.

"I've got too much golf and hunting to do in the spring to leave early."

That's good news for Clemson. Renfrow is shifty, he is entering his fifth year in Dabo Swinney's program and regardless of how often teams think they have the 180-pound veteran wide receiver figured out, he still always manages to find a way to do his damage.

But that is bad news for Clemson's opponents — which is why in 2018, even more emphasis will lie on trying to stop him.

Should history repeat itself, Renfrow will again figure out a way to continue to out-perform defenses with his craftiness and give Clemson's offense the lethal spark it craves in the passing game. Particularly on third-down. But even in the event that defenses discover how to limit Renfrow's productivity, it will almost certainly have to come at the expense of putting a lower priority on some of his teammates. It takes more than one player to lock down the slippery Renfrow, which speaks to how effective he is.

Clemson would welcome either scenario. Regardless, it becomes a win-win of sorts for the offense.

"If they take me away, we can hand the ball off to Travis (Etienne) or Tavien (Feaster) or Adam (Choice)," Renfrow explained ahead of Clemson's 2017 Sugar Bowl matchup with Alabama. "Or we can throw it up (to the X and Z receivers). Just trying to spread the ball around would be cool."

But that plan is not limited to against only the Crimson Tide.

What Renfrow has noticed from most teams Clemson has played since he burst onto the national scene in College Football Playoff games is the way opponents have consistently allotted more safety help over the top to deal with him. Perhaps that is a large reason why Renfrow did not register his first touchdown of 2017 until Clemson's final home game of the year in November against The Citadel. But all along, he still picked up his yards, averaging 10 yards a catch and a team second-best 602 yards total, and for every moment he was shut down, it created more opportunity elsewhere.

"It helps to go to a place like Clemson where we've got playmakers everywhere," he said.

Now that spring has turned to summer and Clemson is just a matter of weeks away from hitting the practice field again, the Tigers can explore some of those on-the-rise playmakers to complement Renfrow's game. Sophomore receiver Tee Higgins is next in line to be the Tigers' marquee down-field threat and sophomore Travis Etienne is currently the top running back on the depth chart for how explosive he is.

In the meantime, Renfrow knows his role and plays it well. Now he has one more chance to perfect it in his final year with the program.

"He’s not the biggest and flashiest player. He’s probably not going to be the first receiver drafted whenever his time comes," Clemson co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jeff Scott said. "But if you look up eight or 10 years from now, he’s probably going to be one of the last guys still playing.

"We like it that he kind of stays under the radar. We just pull him out when we need him."

Clemson's Top 10 Most Important Players

10. K Greg Huegel

9. CB Trayvon Mullen

8. S/LB Isaiah Simmons

7. DT Christian Wilkins

6. DT Dexter Lawrence

5. WR Hunter Renfrow

4. Coming Thursday

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor

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