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.