Numbers are important to superficially understand the trend in production, but to really get below the surface we’ll have to understand exactly what was different in 2018. Below are route charts from Nelson’s best game in both 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Your first question is likely: so what? With more targets and more receptions undoubtedly comes more production. While it’s hard to argue that Agholor was a more exercised piece to the puzzle in 2017, the difference in how he was deployed is telling.
The immediate disparity is movement. Only one of Nelson’s routes in the 2018 game crosses the center of the field. That means he cannot build up a head of steam which limits his after-the-catch threat, and makes his stop routes all that more predictable. Compare that to the chart above in which his routes take him all over the field.
One explanation is congestion. The running back rotation was without a back who could truly stretch a defense laterally. Moreover, with the heavy (over?) use of Zach Ertz, defenses were keying on routes between the hashes. Thus, opponents were able to overcrowd the middle of the field, making crossing routes almost impossible. It important that the coaching staff finds a solution to this problem in 2019. Getting Nelson moving across the field — legs pumping, feet moving — can result in plays like the one below:
It should be noted that the quarterback in the first game chart was Carson Wentz, and Nick Foles in the second. Generally, the ball is out quicker with Foles, which could account for some difference in short completions. However, I would argue the bigger difference is the complete lack of respect opposing defenses had for the Eagles’ deep passing game last season.
Which brings us to the other major difference, which is the deep ball. Evidenced by the long touchdowns in both games (and the video below), either quarterback has the arm strength to get Agholor the ball downfield. The ability to stretch a defense is an underrated aspect of his game, but in 2018, he was the only receiver on the team who had the ability to do so.
It’s very difficult to beat cover one defenses with seams from the slot, especially without an outside counterpart. This scheme opponents were all too happy to play against an Eagles team that struggled to run the football and loved to target their tight ends. The run game should be in better sorts this season. Plus, you have to like the upside of any receiver that can beat Tyrann Mathieu in one-on-one coverage.
If Nelson Agholor is to fully realize his potential this season, the offense will have to take advantage of crossing routes and deep shots. Agholor’s speed crossing the field and ability after the catch is something he has in his arsenal over Goedert and Ertz. Also, while he may not be able to outrun DeSean Jackson, having more than one deep threat to stretch the field will be crucial for the offense. Ertz, Goedert and Alshon Jeffery will all benefit greatly. Speaking of DeSean:
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24 year old Eagles writer from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.