AGHOLOR WENT FROM GOAT TO GREAT IN ONE SEASON
Where would the Eagles be in 2017 without Nelson Agholor?
Dare I say that they might not be 5-1 going into this Monday Night Football rematch with the Washington Redskins? His contributions have been that important.
How, might one quip, ‘is that possible?’
Afterall, he struggled mightily through his first two seasons after being a high first round pick in 2015. He appeared to have hands like feet. He had the confidence of a snail.
By his own admission, he didn’t even have that much confidence. Heck, he didn’t have confidence at one point in the 2016 season and was sat down for a game in 2016. This is not a distant memory. Eagle fans remember as I am sure Nelson remembers.
Let me attempt to recap what lead to a miserable first two seasons for Agholor. As the 20th pick in the NFL draft of 2015 he was much heralded coming out of USC. Chip Kelly was looking for a true #1 wide receiver as they opted to let Jeremy Maclin go in free agency. Chip, after banishing Howie Roseman, and assuming most important personnel matters created a very unstable and poorly constructed team. Chip would be fired before the season ended. Along the way Agholor suffered a high ankle sprain and was very limited early in the season and never quite got the work necessary to grasp the offense.
When Doug Pederson was hired I January of 2016 they cobbled the wide receiver position together with a novice NFL wide receiver coach in Greg Lewis.
The wide receiver room was under led without any true experienced player. Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, and Paul Turner along with Nelson were basically the group.
The first three names on the list are no longer in the NFL. There wasn’t anyone to show him the ropes. To teach him a trick or two. Or possibly to guide him after a drop or two in the game.
I saw him in training camp in 2016 and he had no swagger. He played small. He didn’t impress, ever.
I wondered if he would ever flash like he did in his two years as a starter at USC.
While studying him in the early spring of 2015, there was so much good tape of him as a wide receiver and as a returner; both as a punt returner and as a kickoff returner.
The one constant was his “after the catch” moves and acceleration. He was truly gifted and scouts were unanimous that he was a first round talent. When the Eagles selected him with the 20th pick no one thought that was out of line of that he was over drafted. NO one.
So what happened from the first two years til now?
For starters bringing in new wide receivers coach Mike Groh has really helped. Mike is the son of longtime NFL coach, Al Groh who was on many Bill Parcells staffs and eventually became a very successful college coach at his alma mater, UVa.
Mike also played there as a quarterback and eventually worked himself into a very successful wide receiver coach in the NFL. Not without coincidence, is that Mike most recently was the receivers coach with the Bears where Alshon Jeffery had his most success.
When they both came to Philadelphia they added strong veteran leadership from everything from how to practice to how to prepare to how to recover.
Adding a class person and a former Super Bowl winning wide receiver in Torrey Smith also aided Nelson in rebuilding his confidence level.
Swings of confidence in the NFL is not uncommon but perhaps most notable at receiver because they are asked mostly to catch a football. And when they drop one or two it is front and center for everyone to see. Oh, and if they happen to be on your fantasy team, “fuhgeddaboudit.”
I once played with Hall of Fame defensive tackle in Randy White. He was the best player that I was ever a teammate of.
He is also responsible for bending my pinky back on day in practice which has never been straightened out. He was the No.2 pick in the Cowboys 1975 draft class that became legendary as the dirty dozen. 12 rookies made the team that year and made huge contributions to a team that went all the way to the Super Bow X where they would lose to the Steelers.
One guy that did little to contribute was Randy White. In fact he was considered a bust for his first two years with the Cowboys.
He was a defensive tackle at the University of Maryland and head coach, Tom Landry, had a vision of Randy being the middle linebacker of the Cowboys for the next decade or more.
He just couldn’t do all of things necessary to become a great middle linebacker. In 1977 he was moved to defensive tackle where he became a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer.
Randy would tell you that a great deal of his motivation was the detractors of those first two seasons. He just refused to be labeled a loser or a bust.
This year with a veteran core and a veteran coach, Nelson is a different player and a difference maker.
It took all of three plays into the 2017 Eagle season for Carson Wentz to go into scramble mode and locate Agholor for a 58-yard bomb and just like that, the Birds took control of the Redskin game 7-0. There was the 72-yard touchdown on three-and-19 versus the Cardinals where Bruce Arians was trying anything he could to create a turnover.
He would max blitz on that play and it left Agholor one-on-one with Cardinals rookie safety, Budda Baker.
Carson read it perfectly and once Agholor caught it he looked like the Trojan we all saw on tape during his college career. He put 4 moves on Baker to shake him to complete the touchdown and finish off the Cardinals. How about the past game on Thursday night v the Panthers with the Eagles clinging to a slim 21-16 lead. He would catch a quick slant and dash 24 yards to pay-dirt which turned out to be a real difference maker in the Eagles fifth win in six tries and alone in first place in the NFC.
There is also the seven big catches that have been converted into first downs on third down which have allowed the Eagles to be No.1 in that important category in the NFL.
He has lined up both in the slot where he looks like he has found a new home, as well as playing outside when the time calls for it. He has been more than a willing blocker. More importantly the confidence is back and he is enjoying the teams success as he has been an important contributor. He already has more touchdown receptions in this season after 6 games, 4, than he accumulated in his first 2 seasons combined. More important than all of the stats is that Carson trusts him implicitly.
If the Eagles are going to win the East division and advance in the playoffs as a result, then they are going to continue to need the big play ability of Agholor along with his newfound confidence.
When Alshon Jeffery came to town he had worn No.17 throughout his career with the Bears. It was also the number that Nelson wore his first two years in the NFL.
Something had to give with No. 17. I think Agholor was happy the day that Alshon showed up and asked about the availability of No.17. Agholor gave up the No.17 that reminded him of some bad unhappy early seasons with the Birds. Now, given No.13, its like with the new number there is a new player to go with it. Eagle fans like the new guy wearing No.13.
Like I said at the start, where would the Eagles be without Nelson Agholor? The fact that myself or anyone else could even ask that question after only six weeks is amazing all by itself. Fly Eagles Fly!