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Former top picks have advice for Agholor

Before there was Nelson Agholor there was Marcus Smith. And before Smith there was Brandon Graham. And before Graham there was - you get the drift.

Before there was Nelson Agholor there was Marcus Smith. And before Smith there was Brandon Graham. And before Graham there was - you get the drift.

There's almost no better day for a first-round pick than the day he was drafted - except for maybe the day he signs his contract. But with that distinction comes pressure. And if you fail to immediately deliver upon that investment, outside forces may become too much to bear.

Smith said he knows how fellow first-rounder Agholor, who admitted to struggling with pressure, feels. The Eagles' first-round pick in 2014, Smith hardly played in his first two seasons. It was impossible for the defensive end to go on social media sites without receiving degrading messages, and he said sometimes he let it get to him.

"The biggest thing is Twitter," Smith said. "If you're on Twitter and you see things that people say, you're like, 'Dang, why are those guys thinking that way about me?' You're going to get mad."

Smith said he divorced himself from social media networks until he was able to not care anymore. He still posts regularly on Twitter and Instagram, and still has haters, but he said he no longer fights back.

"The fans - they still call me a bust," said Smith, who has yet to crack the starting lineup. "They might leave something on your Twitter feed. But what I do now, any negativity, I just block it, so I don't look at it and I don't think about it."

Graham said it took him a while to stop listening to what the outside world was saying. Drafted in 2010, the defensive end was injured early in his career, then languished low on Jim Washburn's depth chart and then had to endure a scheme change.

Some fans and media ignored those obstacles. They just saw that he was drafted 13th overall, one spot ahead of perennial Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, and weren't afraid of reminding him. Graham said that through the help of his family and friends he was able to turn off the noise.

"I have a wife that always tells me, 'Get off social media. Why are you looking? You know you can't handle it. So don't even go there,' " Graham said. "It's like once I grew up, now I know. It's going to be ups and downs, but you got to stay even-keeled."

Agholor conceded after Sunday's game, in which he had a penalty that nullified a touchdown and another dropped pass, that he was in his "own head" and "pressing so much and worried about so much things."

Coach Doug Pederson said that he spoke to the receiver this week, but has yet to decide if he will sit him or lessen his playing time. Asked if Agholor had met with one of the Eagles' sports psychologists, Pederson said that the receiver had been seeing one for "the last couple weeks."

Agholor entered the open locker room Wednesday with a smile, but declined to answer questions before he went to lift.

Pederson said that he was of the belief that the pressure Agholor, who was drafted 20th overall last year, was feeling had more to do with outside expectations than anything else. Safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was drafted in the first round by the Saints in 2009, said that the only pressure he initially felt as a rookie was self-applied.

"My expectations were going to be far greater than anybody that's out there," Jenkins said.

Agholor, according to many of his teammates and coaches, is harder on himself than anyone. But he did delete his Twitter account this offseason and lashed out after the Cowboys game last month when he was asked about dropped passes.

Aside from quarterback, there might not be a position in football that is under as much scrutiny. So while Smith and Graham endured their share of grief, Agholor has seemingly suffered more of the wrath of Philadelphia. The ineffectiveness of the receivers overall hasn't helped either.

"It's a hard place to play receiver," receiver Jordan Matthews said. "When we make mistakes, we don't make mistakes in the trenches, where it takes six games to figure out. It's like wide open and nobody else but us, the ball, and Jesus."

Matthews went through struggles during his second season, but even he admitted that his lot as a second-rounder is different from that of Agholor or any first-rounder. Smith wasn't using that as an excuse and said, "You have to understand that comes with it. . . . But this league is always about making plays."

Smith has made a few more plays this season, but he may need a strong finish to return for a fourth season. Graham exploded once he played regularly late in 2012. Agholor, if he plays Monday against the Packers, has six games to make a case.

"My biggest hope for him is to finish strong this year so he can at least have a shot making sure he's here next year," Graham said. "Don't worry about what you can't control. Upstairs is going to do what they do. But, at the same time, it's all about what you put on tape, and all 31 other teams see it, too."

Kelce killing it

Two months ago, Jason Kelce was asked to assess his performance through two games.

"Poor" the Eagles center said. While that may have been harsh - although less callous than how some fans have judged his blocking - Kelce was struggling. He was getting pushed around by bigger defensive lineman and was taking too many penalties.

The penalties haven't exactly gone away - only tackle Jason Peters (9) has more than his eight - but Kelce has gradually worked his way back to the level of his previous years. He might have played his best game this season in the loss to the Seahawks.

"I think I'm playing with better technique if you look back at this last game," Kelce said. "I had better hands than I have in some other games. I've been trying to work as hard as I can with [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] to correct the things that have been going wrong."

Kelce was just as good the week before as the Eagles gained more than 200 yards on the ground against the Falcons. He has been more effective using leverage on inside blocking. For instance, Carson Wentz converted his first short-yardage third down with a quarterback sneak behind Kelce.

"You would think it's simple, it isn't always," Kelce said of the Eagles' reluctance to call sneaks. "If teams know that you're going to run a quarterback sneak and they just run up and dive at your legs, it's really hard to get movement no matter how big you are."

At 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Kelce sometimes is at a disadvantage against nose tackles who weigh as much as 50 pounds heavier. He compensates, though, with his ability to block in open space.

Zach Ertz's 57-yard touchdown screen against the Seahawks was brought back by a penalty, but it highlighted Kelce's speed. He ran ahead of Ertz and was able to block safety Kam Chancellor for most of the tight end's run.

"Those are the things that have always separated me," Kelce said. "I think I'm above average in-line, as well, but I think obviously the thing that separates me as an offensive lineman is my play in space."

One on one

In the NFL, practice is often about success.

The players are set up not to fail. The starters get the large majority of repetitions and they come against scout teams made up of second- and third-stringers who stand in for the upcoming opponent.

There is certainly logic to the method, but reserves are reserves for a reason. The practices aren't at game speed, and even if they were it's difficult for, say, a backup cornerback to simulate how Richard Sherman will cover a receiver.

"We can't have [scout team players] just reading the card," Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews said, "and . . . and now we have this illusion that we're going to get open on Sunday [against] a real corner."

This week, Matthews said that he and safety Malcolm Jenkins took it upon themselves, with approval from the coaching staff, to have more situations in which first-teamers are facing off against each other to keep "the competitiveness high."

So Jenkins and other starters from the secondary have jumped onto the scout team to go up against Matthews and a group of receivers who have been inconsistent all season, and vice versa. But is that too many repetitions this late in the season?

"Coach Pederson is not going to go out there and kill us," Matthews said. "He's big on us taking care of our bodies, but he's also big on us taking, holding the team, and figuring out how we're going to get this thing fixed."

Five questions: Zach Ertz

1. What's the first position you played? Left tackle my seventh-grade year. I never wanted to play football again. It was so bad. I didn't play in eighth grade and I didn't want to play again, but my mom made me go out my freshman year.

2. Who was your football hero growing up? Jason Witten. He was the guy I model my game after most.

3. What's your favorite football memory? Beating Dallas my rookie year to go to the playoffs.

4. Who is the toughest opponent you ever faced? [Panthers linebacker] Luke Kuechly.

5. What's your least favorite piece of football equipment? Shoulder pads.

Inside the game

Fans have been clamoring for Paul Turner to be signed to the 53-man roster for months, so many likely didn't care who was released to make room for the receiver. But it was peculiar that the Eagles opted to cut Aaron Grymes when they are light at cornerback, rather than at a position where they have depth.

There are 10 offensive linemen on the roster and Josh Andrews and Gordon Dillon have yet to be active. There are five defensive tackles and Taylor Hart has yet to dress since the Eagles re-signed him four games ago.

The team has four cornerbacks, and Leodis McKelvin is in concussion protocol. It's likely the Eagles think he will be ready by Monday night's game, but coach Doug Pederson said that media attention on the receiver situation influenced the roster moves.

"Whether it's lack of production or whatever, I'm answering questions every single day [about receivers], and this is another opportunity to bring a guy up and see if he can help us in that position," Pederson said. "It's a give-and-take relationship with the roster."

The Eagles enter Sunday first in the NFL in kick returns, averaging 33.7 yards per try. They had heard that the Seahawks planned on not giving Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner any opportunities and that's how it played it. All six of Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka's kicks were touchbacks.

"It looks like teams are going to take that strategy for now on. Take the easy way out," Smallwood said. "We're just going to have to hope they mishit one. We'll be prepared if they do."

Inside the locker room

Aaron Rodgers not only had to step into the shoes of Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, but when he was drafted by the Packers in 2005 he had the replace Doug Pederson as Farve's backup.

"I never got to play with Doug. I actually took his locker," Rodgers said Wednesday during a conference call. "From the first time I met him he was absolutely as nice as can be and he had me down to his charity event a couple times in Louisiana and we had a ball."

Pederson retired as a player during the 2005 offseason.

By the numbers

29th - Nelson Agholor's rank among 32 qualifying receivers drafted in the first round from 2006 to 2015 in number of catches (50) through first 23 games.

4.8 - Eagles' receivers' dropped-passes percentage (17 drops out of 354 targets), which is tied for sixth worst in the NFL (Lions 5.8, New York Jets 5.5, Colts 4.9, 49ers 4.8, Chiefs 4.8).

77.5 - Passer rating for Carson Wentz on third down, which is 23d in the NFL.