The drama has subsided and the dust has settled. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor anxiously awaits the chance to turn in his best season as a pro.
Regarding the career of Nelson Agholor, a hectic timeline precedes today dating back to April 30th of 2015. On that Thursday night, the Philadelphia Eagles made Agholor the 20th overall selection in the NFL Draft.
Two years and many frustrating drops, mistakes and general moments later, Agholor is preaching a fresh start. The once-explosive PAC-12 playmaker vows that he will make the most of his opportunities this season, and that he has changed his approach to help him do so.
In 2016, Agholor was eventually deactivated despite being at full health. That is a testament to how low his confidence level fell. The coaching staff decided that he needed a break mentally, physically and emotionally. The game that Agholor grew to adore as a child just wasn’t fun anymore. It became a job. It mounted pressure. It grew stressful.
The person that Agholor was on April 30, 2015 is much different from the one you’ll see today. Former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, the man responsible for drafting Agholor, spoke highly of his “growth mindset” as a player. However, evolution in an upward direction has simply not occurred since he’s become a professional.
Is there reason to believe that Agholor’s darkest moments could serve as a launchpad into the 2017 season?
I remember, years and years ago, I was searching tips on fantasy football. Who should I draft? The year was 2004. My first league was about to start and I didn’t know what to do. At age 14, I scoured newfound “fantasy expert” sites to discover anything. One of those tips that always seemed to stick with me as the years went on was the “3rd year breakout” rule for wide receivers.
Now that I’m older I understand that patterns are less important than context. So when I look at Agholor, who is now entering his 3rd year, I won’t allow myself to assume that a big year is on the horizon just because of a trend that has seemingly transcended over the past decade. Instead, context will be applied, and experience is where I’ll begin but not end.
Agholor’s first two seasons in the NFL were about as up and down as any wide receiver could ask for. He was drafted by Kelly to replace former starter Jeremy Maclin. He suffered a high ankle sprain early during his rookie campaign. He came back and appeared hindered. He entered 2016 under a new coach after Kelly was fired and opened up with a 34-yard touchdown against Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden during Week 1. Agholor would only score once more in 2016, during Week 16, and would be benched for mental errors as mentioned earlier. If his first two seasons don’t provide a multitude of sufficient teaching points, I can’t tell you what will.
Teaching, and learning, seemed to be absent during Agholor’s first two seasons. There just wasn’t any room for either of these key foundations. It isn’t that he looked slow or lacked elusiveness — he just looked lost and misguided. Agholor came to a team with no veteran wide receivers. He was asked to replace Maclin on the outside and help the Eagles win games immediately. Receivers like Odell Beckham and Mike Evans temporarily tarnished the “3rd year” rule and the timing of Agholor’s arrival couldn’t have been worse. With no veteran to lean on, multiple quarterbacks and two one-year answers at WR coach, the entire position group was up against it.
In his first two seasons, he was a starter on the outside. He drew coverage from top corners. He never had a learning curve. He was on an island and he was expected to win right away. Corners like Desmond Trufant and Patrick Peterson feasted on the wide-eyed Agholor. It was too easy.
Entering 2017, Agholor’s situation is night-and-day different from his first two years. It starts with something that happens naturally, and that’s experience. Agholor isn’t a rookie. He isn’t entering a completely new system for the 2nd season in a row. He’s re-entering the same system under the same coaching regime with the same quarterback.
Speaking of the coaching regime, there is one change that could really help Agholor’s growth. The Eagles fired Greg Lewis and hired Mike Groh to coach the wide receivers. Groh is a seasoned coach who has a proven track record. He has reportedly “lit a fire” under Agholor, and many players around the league have publicly praised Groh’s competitive practices. Coaching goes hand-in-hand with confidence, and that’s what Agholor is looking to regain.
It appeared obvious that Agholor lost confidence, and when he admitted that he was in his own head, it was proven true. Agholor’s confidence will resurface this year and it will feed off of his new coach, and his veteran teammates who will relieve pressure from him. With Jordan Matthews out of OTAs with an injury, Agholor has been lining up in the slot. He has sudden quickness in small spaces and many think he is more suited for a slot role in the pros. With the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, he will not draw high level coverage in 2017. He’ll likely draw cornerbacks that started the year 3rd (or lower) on the depth chart. For perspective, Agholor lined up across from Richard Sherman in Seattle last season. This season, Agholor could find himself drawing coverage from a wide-eyed, fearful rookie who mirrors what he once was in 2015.
Is Agholor going to transform into an elite wideout simply because he’s entering his 3rd year, and because there is a chart floating around highlighting 3rd-year breakouts from Jordy Nelson and Demaryius Thomas? Absolutely not. Are his hands still a question? Sure. His strength at the top of routes? You bet. His ability to create separation out of his breaks? One hundred percent. These are things that you don’t grow like hair.
But will Agholor’s job be easier? Yup. Will he be the center of attention? Not even close. Will the team rely on him to carry the production on the outside? Not anymore. His every move will not be magnified. He could see a decrease in reps with the increase in competition, finally giving him the opportunity to watch and learn before lining up. He added muscle and worked on his game in the offseason to make sure when he does get a chance, he makes those plays.
Don’t read this article and come to the conclusion that I’m guaranteeing a superstar year. That isn’t the objective here. I am, however, telling you that Nelson Agholor has a great opportunity to take advantage of the situation that he has worked himself into. At the least, that’s a start. It’s the start he deserved back in 2015.