There was a play toward the end of the second quarter last Thursday night that exemplifies my doubts that Nelson Agholor will ever become an NFL wide receiver. With just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, the 2015 first round draft pick lined up wide right as the X receiver (the guy who sets up on the line of scrimmage, more often than not without another receiver inside of him). He was covered by Jude Adjei-Barimah, a second-year cornerback who was undrafted out of Bowling Green in 2015. Agholor runs a stop-and-go route, but Adjei-Barimah is about 10 yards off him at the snap. Adjei-Barimah bites on the first move, but easily recovers to blanket Agholor down the right sideline. Chase Daniel throws a pass that carries out of bounds, but the play was never there to begin with.
The pertinent part of the play isn't the route itself, but the contact we see between Agholor and the cover man. Adjei-Barimah initiates it at the 35-yard-line when Agholor is roughly three strides into the go portion of the route. This is the fulcrum of the play, the moment at which the end result is determined. The corner and the receiver are both on the same patch of turf, their bodies even. It's like the starting line in a race to a spot further down the field. Agholor has the upper hand, because he is already out of his break and headed up field in a straight line. The cornerback is not only battling the receiver, but his own momentum, which is still reversing directions.
There are some route-running things here we could get into. Keep in mind that DBs are trained to focus their eyes between the bottom of the numbers and the top of the hips because that is the receiver's center of gravity and thus is the best indicator of where the rest of his body is going to go. It's the reason basketball defenders are taught to focus on the same area, and the reason why the special sauce in a crossover isn't the dribble itself but the change of direction of the hips. Really, football itself, and any athletic movement, really, is all about the hips. The more strength/quickness/fluidity/elasticity an athlete has in his hips, the faster he can shift the energy and momentum of those hips. If your hips change direction faster than the guy who is covering you, you're already a step ahead of him. Watch Agholor's number as he makes his first move. He doesn't do a great job of selling the fake. He steps backwards with his inside foot but his hips barely move. Also, look at the angle of his upper half. It's nearly upright. From a biomechanical standpoint, he isn't maximizing his momentum. Instead of keeping his energy concentrated in his core, he's creating a clotheslining effect on himself. Again, in virtually any sport, the ready position has the upper body at about 45 degrees with the ground, because that's the position that gives you the quickest reaction time. Coming out of that position against a DB is extra inefficient because the DB is looking at your hips, not your upper body (theoretically, at least).
But back to the fulcrum, we mentioned earlier, where the DB and Agholor are both converging on that same spot. Even before the DB initiates contact, Agholor yields his ground. His footwork carries him toward the sideline instead of downfield. Again, that's wasted energy and it allows the DB to recover. What's the shortest distance between two points (the spot of the first move, and the spot where the receiver is clear of the defender)? A straight line. Instead of running straight through the defender, Agholor tries to run around him, probably because he needs to do this, because he struggles to run through contact, which we see when the defender initiates the contact. Now, by the rule book, this is illegal contact, but it isn't egregious. At least, it doesn't look egregious, partially because Agholor knocked himself toward the sideline before the cornerback even had a chance to.
But even that isn't the point. The point is how much this little bit of close quarters combat disrupts Agholor's route. He looks like a little kid trying to get open against a grown man. That isn't why he didn't catch the ball. It's just an example of what we've seen throughout training camp, Agholor failing to gain leverage and win his spot. Look how much his shoulder dips in this one still frame.
I've watched Agholor throughout training camp, and he simply does not look like a receiver who has the body type to be the kind of receiver his skill set dictates. I was interested to see what he looked like after an offseason in the gym. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders -- those guys are built like gymnasts. Agholor has long legs and narrow hips. He's built a bit like Sam Bradford, actually. Throughout camp, he has struggled to maintain his line through the kind of incidental contact that is commonplace during the course of an NFL play. He has really quick feet and acceleration in the open field, but thus far he does not look like a guy who is ever going to thrive in traffic.