If we roll back the clocks to 2017, it was a much simpler time. Nelson Agholor recorded a career-high 768 yards and 8 touchdowns, shedding the skin of a struggling receiver and emerging as a confident slot superhero. The man who many attributed a lot of Agholor’s success to, WR Coach Mike Groh, was promoted to offensive coordinator.
Groh’s reputation only grew during his time as the Eagles’ WR coach, as he further pushed the development of Alshon Jeffery along and helped Agholor to climb out of his shell. His promotion made sense, with fans rightly encouraged by the growth of a previously unstable receiver room.
In 2018, the Eagles offense took a while to get going, but through all the highs and lows, its versatility remained a strong-point. Players could be moved all across the line of scrimmage at ease, presenting favorable matchups for Wentz and Foles to take advantage of. Now, the unit did struggle in other areas and see a notable regression from the year before, but even the trade for Golden Tate highlighted an intent to keep defenses on edge, with pre-snap motion and the threat of finding YAC in the open-field. The trouble was, the Eagles already had a slot receiver, (arguably two counting JMatt), and although his yardage was similar (736) his touchdowns halved and after the acquisition of Tate, his usage started to dip, too.
In 2019, Agholor was pushed back inside, but with injuries elsewhere, he’s been asked to play just about everywhere this season. He may have played in 61% of his snaps from the slot, but his impact couldn’t be less visible at this stage.
Nelson Agholor is the fourth highest-paid player on the Eagles and is averaging 22 receiving yards per game. He’s dropped a pair of touchdowns that would either tie/win the game, along with numerous criticisms regarding a debatable lack of effort and worrying tracking skills.
When asked about his worrying drop off since that explosive 2017 campaign, Mike Groh gave a worrying answer…
“From 2017? I don’t know. I would say that that’s probably not fair. I would say that over the last two years, he’s had to wear a lot of different hats in our offense due to the attrition at the position, and one of his strengths is his mental flexibility and his ability to learn. He knows the entire system as well as anybody. So, he’s able to handle a lot from that standpoint.
But the flipside of that coin is that then he gets moved around. In 2017 he was really able to really just kind of stay in one spot each and every week. We were healthy the entire year and we had the same three, four guys rotating and performing the same job.
His job description has changed over the last couple years due to necessity, and I understand the question, but to me he’s still the same player.”
Groh has a habit of saying the wrong thing at the worst time…
The Eagles have been crying out for receiving production all season long. DeSean Jackson’s now done for the year, Alshon Jeffery missed last week and as a receiver, Mack Hollins has been as valuable a post-it note. It’s almost as if the team didn’t have a second-round pick built in the exact mold of their #WR1 sat on the sidelines…
Outside of a 29-yard catch on Sunday, JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s offensive exposure has been worryingly low. He’s played in just 25% of offensive snaps in a season where the Eagles are craving any kind of receiving production.
The reason why?
Arcega-Whiteside spent the opening four games of the season learning the ‘X’ position, before spending the rest of the season ‘cross-training’ and learning every other spot. He spoke with NBC Sports Philadelphia about this prior to the Patriots game.
“…knowing all the other positions, helps me a lot knowing what everybody else is going to do and how I need to treat my job, how I need to do my job. And just reps, getting reps at practice and games here and there. It’s slowed down the game tremendously and just being out there and having fun.”
While it’s easy to understand the logical benefits of having a receiver of JJAW’s build be so well-versed in what responsibility each receiver has in each play, (Mack Hollins struggles to work out his own at times), it’s just as easy to take one look at every other rookie wide receiver in the league who hasn’t had to go through that process.
D.K Metcalf, Terry Mclaurin, Hollywood Brown, Dionte Johnson, to name but a few, have all shined this season and haven’t had to be put through wide receiver bootcamp. But at least that can be debated, right? Whether JJAW should be playing next Sunday or continue to take a ‘mental reps’ kind of year is up for logical discussion…at least it was.
If the reason for Nelson Agholor’s stagnation this year has been the fact he’s wearing ‘a few different hats’, why is second-round draft pick JJ Arcega Whiteside being forced down the same path? If the coaching staff are going to attribute the drop in production to that extra responsibility, why is Arcega-Whiteside being caged up on the sideline and made to understand every single route in the playbook from every spot in the formation?
It makes no sense.
For whatever reason, the Eagles, who have been starved of production at wide receiver this year, have pushed themselves even further down the rabbit hole. If this doesn’t set off the alarm bells for change, I don’t know what will.