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It’s too early to sour on Tyrell Williams

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Tyrell Williams has frustrated this year, but the Raiders should keep him in their plans for the 2020 season

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With the Raiders offense struggling over recent weeks, it’s easy to look at Tyrell Williams — the team’s supposed WR1 — and be frustrated with his output.

Across a dreadful three game skid, Williams has only hauled in 6 receptions for 62 yards on 14 targets. Those numbers are frankly abysmal for a No. 1 option, leading Williams to be featured in the “Frustrations” section of our weekly “Sensations, frustrations and declarations” piece after the 42-21 loss against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday.

How could we not be frustrated with his performance? After all, Williams has the 17th highest average salary among NFL wide receivers at $11.075 million and was originally poached from the Chargers to be Oakland’s WR1 prior to the Antonio Brown debacle. He’s had some key drops that have been downright maddening and he’s left fans yearning for consistency.

But while outside observers are perturbed by the 27-year-old’s uneven performance this season (36 catches, 524 yards, 5 touchdowns), those inside the Raiders organization are just happy he’s on the field.

Why? Because Williams has been battling plantar fasciitis all season, an inflammatory tissue injury that causes intense heel pain and can severely limit a receiver’s explosiveness.

“Plantar fasciitis, it’s a pretty significant injury, but he’s battling through it,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said on Thursday. “He’s taking medication before every game trying to manage the pain.”

Said pain is limiting Williams’ effectiveness after the catch and his ability to get open consistently. Per Sports Info Solutions tracking data, he’s averaging 3.8 yards after catch per reception, the worst mark of his career by a full yard. That lack downfield explosiveness coupled with Derek Carr’s propensity to throw check downs is limiting his targets.

Yet, despite dealing with injury, Williams is actually converting his catches for first downs at a career-high clip of 77.8 percent. That’s an uber-efficient mark that suggests the Raiders should be targeting him more frequently. It’s also a bit bizarre that his 77.8 percent first down conversion clip is a career-high, considering that his average yards per catch sits at a career low 14.6 yards.

The second highest first down conversion clip of any Raider with more than three targets this season is Foster Moreau — now out for the season with a knee injury — at 66.7 percent. Next highest is Hunter Renfrow, who converts his catches into first downs 63.9 percent of the time.

Some have been calling for the Raiders to drop Williams this offseason, as the team has a potential out with $0 in dead cap if they cut him. But stripping down the roster of its’ most capable downfield threat would be counterproductive and the team already has an abundance of cap space available.

The Raiders plan at the receiver position should be to buoy the unit by drafting one or more of the several game-changing prospects entering the 2020 draft. Whether they leave Williams at the X receiver spot or move him to the Z spot, the trio he’s formed with Renfrow and Waller should be bolstered, not torn down.