The curious case of Nelson Agholor

Eagles in­sider

Every­body loved him. Why wouldn’t they? Nel­son Ag­ho­l­or was a su­per­star at the Uni­versity of South­ern Cali­for­nia, end­ing his ca­reer there with more than 3,500 all-pur­pose yards and 24 touch­downs in his ca­reer with the Tro­jans.

The NFL re­garded him as a pol­ished wide re­ceiv­er cap­able of mak­ing an in­stant im­pact as a rook­ie in 2015. When the Eagles draf­ted him with the 20th over­all pick that year, Ag­ho­l­or brought with him to Phil­adelphia poise, con­fid­ence and, the scout­ing re­port read, the kind of ex­plos­ive­ness to thrive as a catch-and-run big-play-maker in the league.

That was three years ago. Seems like a lot longer than that, right?

Ag­ho­l­or has not been a big play­maker for the Eagles in his two sea­sons. He’s caught 59 passes for 648 yards and three touch­downs. That’s about a half-sea­son’s worth of pro­duc­tion for someone like At­lanta’s Ju­lio Jones, who may be the best re­ceiv­er in the NFL.

Why hasn’t it worked for Ag­ho­l­or? Will it ever? As the Eagles inch closer to the NFL’s free-agency peri­od, which be­gins on March 9, where does Ag­ho­l­or fit in­to the pic­ture? Does he fit at all? 

The Eagles have made it very clear that they in­tend to sur­round quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz with more weapons. Is Ag­ho­l­or in the plans?

“My fo­cus is to go out every day and have a great prac­tice and stack them one on top of the oth­er and get my­self ready to play to the best of my abil­ity each and every week,” Ag­ho­l­or said late in the 2016 sea­son.

“That’s all I can do.”

His Eagles’ ca­reer has not yet taken off. Even though he was an im­me­di­ate starter in then-coach Chip Kelly’s of­fense in 2015, Ag­ho­l­or didn’t make an im­pact in the passing game. He had eight re­cep­tions in the first five games of that sea­son be­fore suf­fer­ing a high-ankle sprain that har­pooned any real chances of pro­gres­sion as a rook­ie.

Last year, Ag­ho­l­or ran in­to prob­lems off the field just as the team ended its spring prac­tice ses­sions. He struggled through the pre­season, and then re­boun­ded with the best game of his ca­reer – four re­cep­tions, 57 yards, in­clud­ing a pretty 35-yard touch­down catch from Wentz in the win over Clev­e­land. Then Ag­ho­l­or fol­lowed with four more catches against Chica­go.

Maybe, just maybe, he was turn­ing a corner.

It didn’t hap­pen. Ag­ho­l­or wasn’t a con­sist­ent con­trib­ut­or in the of­fense in 2016. He was able to get open of­ten enough, but he wasn’t con­sist­ent catch­ing the foot­ball. 

Worse, he made some crit­ic­al men­tal mis­takes at cru­cial times. Ag­ho­l­or was even benched for a game against Green Bay to get his “head straight.”

So as the Eagles eval­u­ate their wide re­ceiv­ing corps, what do they see in Ag­ho­l­or?

“He’s a tal­en­ted play­er who just needs to re­lax and go out and play foot­ball,” head coach Doug Ped­er­son said. “He’s got to get back to that.”

Ag­ho­l­or is likely to be back with the Eagles, even as they up­grade the po­s­i­tion. He should have a chance to re­verse his for­tunes in the sum­mer. It could be his last chance in Phil­adelphia.

If he doesn’t con­nect and take the leap for­ward, it would be a costly swing and miss for the Eagles in their draft his­tory, a first-round pick whom they des­per­ately need to step up his game. 

Dave Spadaro is a mem­ber of the Eagles or­gan­iz­a­tion. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Eagles­In­sider.

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