The Eagles are sitting pretty atop the NFC East at 5-1 with a chance to extend their blistering lead with a win over a divisional rival on Monday Night. There have been many surprises when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles, but perhaps none more pleasant than the emergence of Nelson Agholor.
Coming into the season, Agholor was coming off of two disappointing first season’s in the NFL. With just three touchdowns and 648 yards to his name, the former USC standout struggled to adapt to the pacing of the NFL. Flashes of his deep speed and lighting quick feet were often overlooked and overshadowed by drops on the field, and mental hurdles away from it.
Then came Mike Groh and a new season. A fresh opportunity for Nelson Agholor and what felt like a new era with the injection of the services of both Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery. What transpired in OTA’s and Training Camp was nothing short of remarkable.
Agholor looked like a completely new receiver. One playing with swagger and confidence. But more importantly, he was playing with a smile.
“Honestly, when he came back into the building in April. And part of my messaging to him, specifically to Nelson, after the season was just get away.” Head Coach Doug Pederson told reporters. “Get away, clear your mind, clear everything, and when he came back in the spring for OTAs, he was a changed football player. He was a changed person. His confidence level was higher. I would say it wasn’t like through the roof as it is now, but it was beginning to build at that point of the spring, and each day that he got a little more comfortable in his new role of playing in the slot helped that. And I think, too, the addition of [WR] Torrey [Smith] and [WR] Alshon [Jeffery] on the perimeter also took a little of the pressure off of him and diverted it to all three of them.
Each day he got extremely better, and he’s playing at that high-confidence level today.”
The Eagles were so impressed with Agholor, that Howie Roseman put all his chips on the table and traded Jordan Matthews to Buffalo in exchange for some much needed cornerback help. Just like that, a probable WR3 was thrust into a starting role where he thrived during his days at USC.
Through the opening six games, Agholor has 4 touchdowns on 20 receptions for 321 yards. That’s right. One in every six passes thrown in the receiver’s way is going for a touchdown. Not only does he lead the NFL in passer rating when targeted, but his burst and mental toughness are only getting better.
Against the Panthers, the third-year wideout was mentally tested. Captain Munnerlyn played hard. With some dirty hits and a lot of trash talking, Agholor kept his head and was able to respond in the best way possible; a fourth quarter touchdown in which he flew past his matchup and into the endzone, setting the scoreboard and the Linc alight.
What may sum up the personality of Agholor more than anything else however, is the way he responded to his 72-yard touchdown just one week before.
“We’re still getting better.” The speedy slot receiver said. “We’re never satisfied. We’re a great football team in my opinion. We’re a football team that has room to grow as individuals and as a whole. You’ll never play a perfect game, but you want to strive for perfection. We want to grow each week and we want to be competitive. I feel like we’re a competitive team. We have a lot of great players on this team and selfless players.”
The drops are seemingly a non-issue. in fact, the word has almost completely disappeared from the dictionary of many writers covering the team. For a player who was so microscopically criticized one year ago, Agholor has responded well on the occasions he has dropped the ball.
In the win over Arizona, Agholor let a second-down look slip through his hands. Wentz went back to him the very next play and the confidence and resilience embedded deep into the DNA of Agholor was on full display as he moved the chains.
“I have next-play mentality. At the end of the day, it was a situation that I get there quicker and can snap my head around to frame the football. But you know what, I missed that one and next time my number is called I want to seize it. It’s the game of football and every day I want to catch as many that come my way, but I also have to have the resiliency to bounce back and catch the next one.”
This isn’t about drops, or touchdowns, or statistics. Nelson Agholor is simply becoming the player he always had the potential to become. A new culture in the locker room has helped bring the best out of the former first round pick who is currently second only to Zach Ertz in team receiving yards this year.
“I’m having a whole lot of fun right now.” Agholor said after the Cardinals game. “I work my butt off and I want to continue to work my butt off because I enjoy this. I really enjoy the game of football and enjoy the process of getting better. I want to go out there and have fun with my teammates.”
Fun. That’s all. Nelson Agholor is having fun. He’s smiling. He’s falling into the end zone, enjoying what he does. There is no more weight of the outside world beckoning down on every single reception. No more hounding from fans on social media. No more “bust” label talk. Agholor has learned to disassociate what really matters from what factors are variables.
With home-run celebrations, smiles, dances, touchdowns and wins, Nelson Agholor has found himself…and is helping the Eagles soar into playoff contention as a result.
Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports