There once was a time when NFL teams didn't expect their rookie wide receivers, even the ones drafted high, to make an immediate impact. The demands of the position, along with the disparity between pro and college defenses, often made it difficult for receivers to transition in one year.
But last season, three rookies surpassed 1,000 yards receiving. Another finished 18 yards shy of the mark, and the Eagles' Jordan Matthews, despite an incremental increase in playing time as the season progressed, accounted for 872 yards through the air.
It may end up that the 2014 draft class of receivers, arguably the best ever, altered the expectations for the position. And coming on the heels of that class is another respected group that includes Nelson Agholor, the Eagles' top pick.
The Eagles don't necessarily need Agholor to step in and match the 1,000-yard seasons the three first-round receivers had last season, or even to reach Matthews' output. But with Jeremy Maclin's departure and two receivers currently ahead of him on the depth chart who don't have as high a ceiling, coach Chip Kelly might not have the luxury of easing Agholor along.
Kelly hasn't rushed the rookie. The Eagles coach has handled Agholor much as he did Matthews a year ago, allowing him to toil mostly on the second- team offense. There have been ups and there have been downs, but after one week of training camp, there have been enough glimpses to believe Agholor will fall in line with the other pro-ready receivers entering the NFL.
"I think he's leaps and bounds more polished in his routes than I was," Matthews said. "It really comes naturally for him. He's also easily one of the most athletic dudes on the team. Talk about being able to go from zero to one hundred. He probably gets to top speed faster than anybody on the squad."
Even if that were accurate, Agholor hasn't been able to translate those skills to the practice field as consistently as Matthews did a year ago. It may not be fair to compare the two. Matthews was learning the slot position, while Agholor has been mostly outside. They're also different receivers with different skills.
But Matthews set a benchmark, and Agholor said that having that kind of focus every practice has been the biggest adjustment. On Friday, for instance, he struggled early but rebounded later.
"I think I could have been a little bit more focused, but I think I bounced back," Agholor said. "And that's all it's about. I want to progress every day and I also like facing opportunities. I was a little bit uncomfortable with the things I did today and I wanted to get back out there and be resilient."
Receiver Josh Huff, who is entering his second season, called what Agholor has been experiencing "rookie jitters." Huff, drafted in the third round, played sparingly last season partly because of numbers, but also because, like so many receivers prior to last year, he just wasn't ready.
Huff is starting on the outside opposite Riley Cooper right now and looks more consistent than a year ago, but there is still uncertainty about his readiness. He was a multi-purpose player in high school and didn't move full time to receiver until college.
Kelly said one of the main reasons receivers have entered the NFL and contributed right away is because high school and college offenses have increasingly become pass-oriented. And with more passing there has been more emphasis on putting the best players at receiver.
"You can go back 15 years ago and the best athletes at the younger level were all playing running back," Kelly said. "Even a lot of those really good receivers in college were running backs in high school. . . . A lot of those guys coming in now have been playing receiver for a long time."
The numbers back it up.
From 1999 to 2013, only five rookie receivers had surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in their first year - Anquan Boldin (2003), Michael Clayton (2004), Marques Colston (2006), A.J. Green (2011), and Keenan Allen (2013). But there were three last year alone: Odell Beckham Jr. (1,305 yards), Mike Evans (1,051), and Kelvin Benjamin (1,008).
The tilt toward the pass, along with lenient officiating, had something to do with last year's rookie production. But it was an explosion of offense. From 2009 to 2013, 18 first-round receivers caught on average 43 passes for 592 yards and four touchdowns. Last year, five first-rounders averaged 70 catches for 972 yards and eight touchdowns.
The second-rounders also performed at a higher clip. From 2009 to 2013, 17 receivers averaged 27 receptions for 408 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, seven second-rounders - including Matthews, who caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight scores - averaged 44 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns.
Matthews, who didn't start playing football until the fifth grade, said he's always been at wide receiver. Agholor actually played running back and defensive back in high school and wasn't moved to receiver until he arrived at Southern Cal.
Despite being one of the nation's top recruits, Agholor had to wait his turn in college. He backed up eventual pros Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. He said he was patient then and he'll be patient now, even if the expectations for the first-rounder may be unrealistically high.
"I don't focus on those types of deals," Agholor said. "I focus on getting better every day."