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The Nelson Also Rises

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Training camp fluff stories about a player having a “breakout” despite past struggles are up there with September mock drafts in terms of which stories I’m most likely to use as toilet paper. Not because I’m rooting against anybody, but the hit rate of these stories is so egregiously poor that it’s easy to dismiss it as a poor writer on deadline needing a story. No Philadelphia Eagles player received more of the fluff treatment this training camp than WR Nelson Agholor.

As a member of “Agholor Hive” when he entered the 2015 NFL Draft, I was thrilled when the Eagles drafted him in the 1st round, 20th overall. Coming off a season where he had a three game stretch with 24 receptions, 546 yards, and 3 touchdowns, Agholor’s popularity among draftnik, scouts and forecasters trended up throughout the process

This is what Mike Mayock had to say about the selection:

“Agholor is a precise route runner. He has added value as a great returner. He reminds you of Jeremy Maclin, the guy he’s replacing. Agholor can play anywhere, outside and in the slot. The Philadelphia Eagles are going to love him.”

 

This type of hype is what made his first two seasons in the NFL such a monumental disappointment. Amassing only 23 receptions, 283 yards, and 1 touchdown his rookie year while playing on the outside of former Head Coach Chip Kelly’s spread offense, many began to label Agholor a bust. The bust chatter gained momentum after his second year in the league with only slight improvements to his stat line (36-365-2). Both years he recorded catch rates of 52% and he struggled so badly with drops that he was benched by new Head Coach Doug Pederson. Agholor’s confidence was completely shot, and some thought he would never recover.

What could possibly turn things around? According to him, a little #grind:

“You know what’s crazy?” Agholor said. “Grinding harder is what allowed me to loosen up more.”

It’s paid off, and more and more you’re hearing about Agholor’s work ethic. For example, take this quote from CB Ronald Darby:

“I was here early every day at like 5 a.m. for rehab,” Darby told the media. “I was like, one of the first ones here. Every time I came scooting in here on my scooter, [Carson] Wentz would be there sitting at his locker. Him and Nelson [Agholor]. Nelson would be here sweating and doing the Jugs [catching passes from the machine], things like that.”

It’s not often, but there are even times where Agholor beats QB Carson Wentz to the building, a feat in and of itself considering the legend growing around Wentz’s work habits.

The other factor that has played into Agholor’s breakout season has been his switch to playing slot receiver. In 2016, he lined up in the slot for 22% of his routes. In 2017, the Eagles traded slot receiver Jordan Matthews to the Buffalo Bills and that number has sky-rocketed to 86%.

He has looked smooth in the slot after two years of confounding releases and routes on the outside. His routes are sharper, his burst out the breakpoint has finally matched his athletic profile, and perhaps the biggest factor, his once shattered confidence is no longer turning his hands into stone. This year he only has 2 drops, which came early in the season, and after both drops Wentz went right back to him on the next throw, and Agholor rebounded immediately.

 

Let’s look at how his move to slot and his renewed confidence has enhanced his production:

The headline used for this story is taken from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I chose it because the title of the book depicts the despair of Hemingway’s Lost Generation, of which he was a part, but it also represents the potential for brighter days in the perpetual rising of the sun. Nelson Agholor’s story now depicts one of optimism and is one of the best comeback tales in all of the NFL.

Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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