To understand Nelson Agholor, look past the numbers

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The life of an NFL player is one many of us will never understand. Not only is it a life of wealth and competition, getting paid to do something you’ve dreamed about since you were a child, but it’s one of constant pressure. It’s easy to forget that despite being in such enviable positions, the stars of the NFL are still human..and still endure the same problems all of us do.

Nelson Agholor was a player on the tip of everyone’s tongue last year. The USC product was always on the edge of a breakout that never seemed to arrive, although many blame former Head Coach Chip Kelly for that. Agholor’s lack of chemistry with a quarterback who spent most of Training camp rehabbing an injury certainly stunted his progress, but the first round pick never really found a rhythm.

In the thirteen games Agholor played in during his rookie year, he was never targeted more than 3 times, catching a total of of 23 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown. It was a disappointing campaign in which he would often flash potential before overshadowing it with a rookie mistake, just as he did against Washington.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZglY2zaRC8c

Just one play after making this stunning one-handed catch, Agholor fumbled the Football. It took 13 games for Agholor to finally find the endzone as pressure began to mount. The locker room fell apart and in a sense it gave Agholor a lifeline.

A new Head Coach, a new Offense and a new chapter for Nelson Agholor would see a clean slate under his name. Doug Pederson was part of a thunderous 2015 Kansas City Chiefs campaign and with Greg Lewis added to the coaching staff, it seemed like the perfect environment to be in.

Agholor was reported to have purchased a JUGS machine during the offseason, to work on his hands and get better..and even deep into the 2016 regular season, his work-ethic is unquestioned. Various sources close to Nelson and the Eagles locker room have confirmed that a “first man in, last man out” attitude is part of why his struggles are so puzzling. The second year receiver often stays late after practice, is asking plenty of questions and looking to improve his game..so what’s going wrong?

First, there was the “sexual assault” scandal. Agholor was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a dancer in a club following the end of Minicamp..a Crime of which he was later not convicted. But needless to say, that must have been an incredibly tough thing to go through.

We’re now ten games into the regular season and Nelson Agholor has continued to underwhelm. Although he’s had a total of 51 passes thrown his way, he’s caught just 27 for 264 yards and a touchdown. The ghosts of his rookie season continue to haunt him however. Drops, a failure to make plays, penalties and a struggle to separate at times have all plagued Agholor once again..only this year, the effects are far more impactful.

As the games began to pass and the issues stayed prominent, the already existing pressure only grew stronger. To the point where Nelson Agholor lost his cool in an interview after the issues again stagnated his game. When asked about the drops after a tough loss to the Dallas Cowboys, it was clear that the frustration was growing.

In the weeks that have followed, there have been several occasions where the issue has been presented..both on and off the field. Each time, Agholor’s overall reaction has been more and more concerning. From initially showing a completely different mentality to the interview above, to defending his work ethic and trusting in his own ability and the Coaches..the body language and responses haven’t been all too convincing.

But after the loss to Seattle, Nelson Agholor finally revealed the extent of the frustration.

I’ve got to get out of my own head. Pressing so much and worried about so many things. I’ve got to go out there and try to catch the ball..because I’m thinking too much and got so worried.”

This caught many people by surprise, that Agholor had opened himself up the media in this fashion, in a very quiet and withdrawn tone. But then he carried on.

“..It’s such a selfish thing that I need to stop. I need to give my energy to my teammates and this organization, not myself. I’m feeling so much pressure to make every single play. I just need to have fun.”

Just days after this interview, Doug Pederson promoted Paul Turner to the active roster. A wide receiver who stunned in preseason, leading the league in receiving yards and who has been pined over by fans ever since.

Just because Nelson Agholor is an NFL player, making a lot of money and playing for a reputable organization, it doesn’t mean he is exempt from feeling any emotion we as human beings do. Mental illnesses are so often stigmatized by the Media and this is by no means to say that Nelson Agholor has one, but it’s clear that mentally, he’s not in a good way and it’s easy to understand why.

With the media constantly forcing his back against the wall with rumors and articles constantly depicting nothing but the poorer aspects of his game, it can be tough to find room to breathe. Knowing that your long-term future isn’t all that secure and that there are guys below you chomping at the bit for a shot, with coaches expecting you to execute in big-time situations, teammates relying on you to do the same and the most passionate fanbase in the world turning on you..it can be a lot to digest.

With fans spamming his twitter feed with abusive messages, threats and showing an unwarranted disgust at his level of play, Nelson Agholor has been subjected to nothing but negativity since arriving in Philadelphia out of USC..and that can take its toll regardless of what background you come from.

The NFL is more than physically demanding, it’s just as tough on the mind as it is on the body..and any professional athlete will tell you the same. This article isn’t about defending the play of Nelson Agholor, it’s about defending the person..the man behind the jersey, the son to his parents and a friend of many.

Regardless of whether Nelson Agholor is battling a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, or simply just struggling against his own internal demons and frustrations, this is where Doug Pederson needs to intervene and look at his character as opposed to his production.

This largely impacted the move to activate Paul Turner and Doug Pederson openly stated this in his Monday presser:  

“My concern is for him as an individual, as a person, and I want to make sure that he’s in a good spot.”

The fact that Pederson addressed this in such a conservative manner, affirming that he would talk confidentially with Agholor, suggests this is more serious than we may think.

Production can peak and drop. Look at Zach Ertz for instance or most number 2/3 wide receivers around the league. There is no doubting Agholor’s talent or attitude..but if he’s struggling to “get out of his own head” which is a VERY choice set of words, then that implies the constant pressure from himself and the rest of the country have left him in bad shape.

The case of Nelson Agholor the player is a peculiar one, but the case of Nelson Agholor the person is a little more straight forward. In a locker room of men looking to prove their toughness and dominate, coming to terms with mental troubles is not only intimidating..but can make you feel alienated, as if you’re lost inside your own thoughts and have nobody to talk to and no way to get out. As the pressure builds, the comments and articles continue to surface and the production stagnates, just like a Coca Cola bottle being shaken..it starts to become incredibly tense, until eventually it explodes, just as it did in the press conference.

It’s clear Nelson Agholor needs support, not production. To have someone guide him through whatever difficulties he’s facing mentally and personally as opposed to what he can improve mechanically. It’s time we view Nelson Agholor and every NFL player for that matter..as more than just a stat line or a number on the field. But as a human being who just like everyone else, needs support when dealing with inner demons.

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