Last year at this time, Nelson Agholor was a former first round pick entering his sophomore NFL season with high expectations.
He was expected to go out and be the Eagles’ second wide receiver on the depth chart — opposite Jordan Matthews — and post numbers to justify former Eagles’ head coach Chip Kelly’s decision to draft him 20th overall in 2015.
But as Eagles fans know full well, that didn’t happen. It didn’t even come close to happening.
In addition to a bevy of unforgettable costly drops, Agholor caught just 36 passes for 365 yards. That was when he could get himself on the field. The wideout was under so much pressure a near mental breakdown saw him benched toward the end of the 2016 regular season.
With time to reflect and rejuvinate, the 23-year-old USC alum is in the second to last year of his guaranteed rookie contract and once again under a lot of pressure to perform. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson says, as OTAs start in South Philly, that he’s off to a good start.
“Nelson’s attitude has been great,” the coach said. “He’s worked extremely hard this offseason, the addition of [new wide receivers coach] Mike Groh has lit a fire a little bit and the additions of Alshon [Jeffery] and Torrey [Smith] — competition sharpens you and that’s what I’ve seen from Nelson and he’s done a great job already this spring.”
The competition will be fierce all spring and summer, as Agholor will need to somehow vie for a spot on the 53-man roster against the likes of Jeffery, Smith, Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham and newly drafted rookies Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson.
While the deck may be stacked against him, the cap penalty for an Agholor cut would dig deep as a cap penalty of nearly $3 million is higher than his 2017 salary. He is under contract in 2018 as well.
Teammate Brandon Graham is no stranger to the situation Agholor is dealing with. A former first round pick himsef, Graham was oft-criticized and called a bust before his past two seasons — seasons that earned him a contract extension and put him among the best pass-rushers in football.
“I think he’s focused, I think he’s ready, I think the worst has happened to him,” Graham said. “The worst happened to me and now the pressure is off. Everyone labeled you the ‘B’ word, and now the pressure is off to prove yourself.”
Pederson seems to feel the same way.
“The expectation is for him to compete to play, compete to start and compete to be a role player on this football team,” Pederson said. “Be unselfish, be disciplined and compete to play.”