It would seem unfair to compare Nelson Agholor to his wide receiving predecessors with the Eagles. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were in their sixth years when they set career season-highs in Chip Kelly's offense. Agholor is only a rookie.
But the Eagles have essentially made the comparison inevitable. They slotted Agholor into Jackson's and Maclin's old starting spot on the right and have often given their first-round pick the same number of snaps per game.
Needless to say, he has fallen short. But it just hasn't been Agholor who has failed to account for losing Jackson and then Maclin. The entire outside receiver group has been a season-long disappointment – unable to consistently get separation, stretch the field, and catch even the simplest of passes.
It hasn't been entirely their fault. The passing offense has morphed into one that utilizes the middle of the field with slot receiver Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz becoming the focal point. But the production - and more important the winning - hasn't been the same
The Eagles need someone on the outside who is capable of taking the top off of a defense. Agholor has the best chance of the receivers on the roster of being that guy. But for various reasons – and the Eagles' hope for the future is that it isn't only talent – he's not there yet.
"I understand what the job title is in terms of the wide receiver catches the football," Agholor said. "But as a competitor, it's about winning football games."
Agholor has 19 catches for 225 yards and a touchdown in 11 games. He missed three games with a high ankle sprain. But he's still last in the NFL out of 120 qualifying receivers in yards per route run. He played a skill position-high 57 of 64 snaps against the Cardinals on Sunday and had no catches on only one target.
Kelly and Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur credited Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, who shadowed the receiver, for Agholor's lack of production. But he has yet to catch more than three passes in a game despite playing 75 percent of the time when healthy.
"He's coming back from the injury," Shurmur said. "He's out there competing. I think he continues to get better physically each week."
It should be noted that last season when Maclin faced the Cardinals – and a healthy dose of Peterson - he caught 12 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles lost that game, too, but they haven't come close to matching those numbers on the outside this season.
Overall, Eagles outside receivers – Josh Huff, Riley Cooper, the recently released Miles Austin, Jonathan Krause, Seyi Ajirotutu and Agholor – have caught 81 passes for 1,088 yards and seven touchdowns.
Last season, Maclin caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 scores. Maclin, who left for the Chiefs via free agency, has 79 catches for 985 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games this season.
In 2013 with the Eagles, Jackson finished with 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine scores. He caught 56 passes for 1,116 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games last season. The Redskins receiver, who will return to face his old team Saturday, has 26 grabs for 488 yards and four touchdowns in eight games this year.
"He's DeSean. He blows the top off of everything," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.
Agholor has just two long catches this season – a 45-yard one-handed grab in the first meeting with the Redskins and a 53-yard touchdown two weeks ago against the Bills.
But there has been more bad than good. He has at least five drops. He fumbled a reverse and brought back a touchdown with a penalty in the Washington game. His routes haven't always been crisp. And the 6-foot, 198-pound receiver has struggled to get off the line against press-man coverage.
Agholor said he added weight this offseason, but he remains a slight receiver. As Jackson has proved, size doesn't always matter, but Agholor doesn't have his speed or burst. Maclin, based on his size and skill set, was the receiver many scouts compared with Agholor coming out of Southern Cal.
Maclin added a great amount of muscle in between his first and third seasons in the NFL. Agholor is toned, but he may need more bulk.
"I felt like my body was prepared to play," Agholor said. "I feel like it's a legitimate weight to play."
Historically speaking, NFL receivers have needed more than one year to hit their peak. Last year, when three rookies eclipsed 1,000 yards, another came 18 yards short, and Matthews finished with 872 yards, was an anomaly.
From 1999 to 2013, only five rookie receivers topped 1,000 yards.
"It's the hardest position to come in and do well. I think everybody got carried away with our year," Matthews said. "They think that now everybody should just come in and be good. No, there's a growth process. It's going to take time, especially when you're going against the top guys each week like [Agholor] is."
As Shurmur said, opposing teams are going to have to "put their best corner on somebody." A final evaluation of Agholor is far from being completed, but teams typically want to see improvement out of their rookies by the end of their first seasons.
The Eagles haven't babied Agholor on the field, but off it they've been patient. Next year will be different.
"He's a grown man. This is a grown man's league. I know he wants to produce," Matthews said. "But I tell him [catches] come in bunches. Once you crack that egg you're going to keep eating. Just keep working and good stuff is going to come."