The curious case of Nelson Agholor part 1: Was the loss to Detroit a catalyst for confidence concerns?

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2016 was a rollercoaster year for Nelson Agholor. The Eagles wide receiver was coming off of a disappointing rookie season in which he caught just 23 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown. Many had hoped that the start of a new era would bring a new chance to shine for the USC product. A chance to showcase the potential that enabled him to soar up draft boards and be taken in the first round. What happened next..was as upsetting as it was disappointing.

Agholor again struggled to meet the strong “first rounder” expectations, amassing 365 yards and 2 touchdowns..but in the heat of it all, there was a separate battle he was having to endure. This article series takes a game-by-game look at Agholor’s performances last season, analyzing the highs that showed so much potential..and the lows that brought with them a shadow of internal struggle.

Week 1 vs Cleveland Browns:
4 receptions
5 targets
57 yards
1 TD
87% snaps

The opening game of the season was actually an incredibly promising performance for Nelson Agholor. It looked evident form the very early stages that he was playing with a chip on his shoulder. After reports of the amount of extra reps that the 6’0, 198 lbs, wideout put in over training camp, many were excited to see what the future held under Doug Pederson.

Agholor’s greatest strength, without a shadow of a doubt, is his route-running. As crisp as they come, Agholor is able to battle through the stem of the route cleanly and use some sensational footwork to create separation. The problem was in 2015 that despite the many times he was able to get open, targets were rarely thrown his way.

The same pattern looked to continue into 2017. Agholor did a great job of forcing his way inside against his cornerback, breaking over the middle for what could have been a deep shot if the play had developed in an instance where Wentz had time to set his feet.

The fight in Agholor could be seen early on. Here, we see him at the bottom of the screen pushing the corner away from him to win a post route, breaking over the top of the defender to create a huge passing lane for Carson Wentz. The coverage linebacker was able to pick up Ryan Mathews out of the backfield, closing that window..but the tenacity Agholor showed to work his way over the top here was impressive.

Later on in the game, we saw the first glimpse of the home run Agholor would later hit. Powering his way outside, he was able to again close over the top of his defender. It’s a skill that has only recently been prominent in Agholor’s game, as he cuts in front of his corner to provide a bucket for the quarterback to throw into.

After a couple of receptions on shorter routes, Wentz put trust in Agholor to take it to the house. Some nifty footwork early in the route saw Agholor open up a nice gap to his man as he faded out to the sideline and caught a perfect pass from Wentz. The icing on the cake to a game that showed Agholor was going nowhere anytime soon..and he had a lot left to prove.

 

Week 2 @ Chicago Bears
4 receptions
7 targets
42 yards
78% snaps

The Eagles receiver looked keen to build on the opening game of the season in a Monday Night matchup against the Bears. Agholor was able to sneak through zone coverage on the below play and work his way over the middle, making a nice adjustment for Carson Wentz. A tough catch in double coverage before turning and immediately vying for extra yards certainly set the tone. Could this be the season Agholor really soars? It was this kind of catch that would have been unheard of for Agholor to make a year ago..the hype was naturally beginning to build after Wentz trusted him on an out route earlier in the game.

Later on, came another home run attempt. This time the ball was underthrown however, leaving the Eagles receiver to surrender all the separation he had gained earlier in the route, by leaping over the top of the corner in order to try and make the catch. Agholor did well to burn past the corner and fight off some late physicality, but the underthrown pass left a little to be desired..and a lot for Agholor to do.

The next play, was arguably the most suiting summary to Agholor’s career so far. The Eagles receiver did an incredible job of fooling Kyle Fuller, initiating a swift stutter step before burning past the fallen corner..only for the ball to be underthrown once again, allowing the corner to fight back and force the incompletion.

Week 2 was a game of what could’ve been for Nelson Agholor..but one that still flashed plenty of potential. The route running on display was arguably the finest of his career so far and had it not been for two underthrown passes, the word resurgence would have been echoing around the Linc over the next seven days.

 

Week 3 vs Pittsburgh Steelers:
3 receptions
3 targets
21 yards
80% snaps

Oddly, Agholor appeared to have a quiet day at the office in the Eagles most dominant offensive display of the season. The good news was however that he caught everything thrown his way for just the second time in his career..even if it did only account for 21 yards.

The strong route running was once again on show, as can be seen with this swift break outside at the bottom of the play below. The problem was that despite playing in 80% of offensive snaps..the Eagles passing attack was strangely based around Darren Sproles. In the week prior, the Steelers gave up 100 receiving yards to Giovani Bernard..so the Eagles were absolutely right to try and carve them open in the same fashion.

Arguably his most impressive moment came from the position where many have been itching to see him play, in the slot. A Z-spot route saw Agholor curl over the middle to make a catch that was thrown a little high. Regardless of your opinions on the USC product and regardless of the kind of game he’s having, the one thing that stands out is his intent to always turn and push for extra yards.

Agholor also went on to make a nifty catch over the middle after initially trying to block for a wide receiver screen that was busted open. He then cut inside after dissecting the play and showed some instinctive footwork to shake off a tackle and attempt to tuen downfield.

After three weeks, Agholor had 120 yards of receiving to his name and was trending in the right direction. What happened next however, may have proved to be the catalyst in the season that would eventually unfold.

 

Week 5: @ Detroit Lions
2 receptions
7 targets
27 yards
79% snaps played

Coming off an early bye and a hot start to the year, it looked as though Agholor would be integral to the Eagles offensive success..and he was. With more targets than anyone else on the team, the pressure was certainly on. Two receptions for just 27-yards just simply didn’t cut it..but there was a lot more to that game than meets the eye.

This was the first time that Nelson Agholor had experienced really tight press coverage all year. The aggressive Lions Defense isn’t one to let up big passing plays and that’s largely due to their physicality when pressing wideouts. Very early on in the game, we can see Agholor being covered perfectly by Darius Slay. The ball was again underthrown, but it was also nearly picked off. This certainly set the tone for the game ahead.

The matchup would cause constant headaches for Agholor who struggled to fight his way inside on the play below. Some brilliant press coverage from Slay saw the corner really assert himself on the route, leaving Agholor unable to break inwards until it was too late. The duck of the head at the end after having to throw Slay backwards simply exudes the frustration that was beginning to set in.

Coming across the middle, Agholor was able to leap up for a grab after finally being able to push himself inside and gain some separation. But that didn’t stop the Lions cornerback from climbing over the back of number 17, forcing him to the ground and cutting the cord on the play.

Working out of the slot, the matchup took an even more intensive turn. Agholor was matched stride for stride down the sideline on an overthrown pass, but again..the coverage from the slot and ability to jam at the line really caught the Eagles receiver off guard. Although he was able to beat it, it was clear that this would be a physical matchup that would demand a differnt kind of playing style.

Agholor would then make a clean break outside later in the game, only for the opposing corner to bat down the pass and throw Agholor to the sidelines. There was simply nothing that the wideout could do in this matchup. The coverage was simply too much for Agholor, who hadn’t been exposed to this level of aggressive defense in a long time.

Then, the final blow. A game-ending interception in a one-on-one matchup may not have fell entirely on the shoulders of Nelson Agholor, who had actually won the stem of the route, but after such a tough matchup where his confidence had to have taken a knock and his frustrations must have risen, losing THAT play which would then decide the game would sting..as it would any player.

The interesting thing is, later in the year, the exact same thing would happen to Dorial Green-Beckham. Accusations of effort levels came flooding in after a loss to the Giants..and when you go back and look at the tape, you can see a rough matchup against Janoris Jenkins drain the former Titan of any fight.

Agholor however did push through..but in a game where he was targeted more than any other Eagle, he was completely shut down and then gave up the interception to the corner who had haunted his every move all game long. It’s this, in my opinion, that really pushed the Snowball down the hill for Nelson Agholor. A tough matchup where the flaws he continued to show in 2016 rose through the cracks due to continued frustration and desperation to make a big play.

The next part of the series will take a look at the next four games in the schedule and examine whether or not Agholor was able to bounce back..or if his play differed from those promising first three games as a consequence of the tough loss to Detroit.

 

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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