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Eagles need more production from rookie wideout Nelson Agholor

WHEN MARCUS Smith played only 68 snaps and made no impact on the Eagles' defense last year as a rookie, few people outside of the organization were taken aback.

WHEN MARCUS Smith played only 68 snaps and made no impact on the Eagles' defense last year as a rookie, few people outside of the organization were taken aback.

The truth is, Smith had been considered a reach with the 26th overall pick in the draft by almost everyone except the Eagles. That he finished his first NFL season with a grand total of one tackle and zero quarterback sacks, and played in only eight games, well, it was considered more a reflection on the Eagles' poor judgment than Smith not playing up to his ability.

That wasn't the case in April when the Eagles took wide receiver Nelson Agholor with the 15th pick in the first round.

Except for Amari Cooper, who went fourth to the Oakland Raiders, Agholor was considered the most NFL-ready wideout in the draft by most NFL personnel people. Not necessarily the one with the biggest ceiling, but the one most capable of stepping in as a rookie and making a significant contribution.

But 14 games into his rookie season, the 6-foot, 198-pound wideout from Southern California hasn't exactly taken the NFL by storm.

Despite playing more snaps - 557 - than all but one of the Eagles' wide receivers (Jordan Matthews has played 799), Agholor has only 19 receptions for 225 yards and one touchdown. His lone visit to the end zone was a 53-yarder from Sam Bradford in the Eagles' 23-20 win over Buffalo two weeks ago.

Agholor, who missed three games this season with a high-ankle sprain, has had more than 32 receiving yards in a game only twice - 64 against Washington in Week 4 and 62 against the Bills.

He had four receptions for first downs in his first four games, but has had only three since. He has only two third-down catches the entire season.

Riley Cooper, who has played 69 fewer snaps than Agholor, has 15 catches for first downs and nine third-down receptions. Josh Huff, who has played 100 fewer snaps than Agholor, also has 15 catches for first downs and seven third-down receptions.

"Nelson is going to be a really fine player in this league," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said this week. "You see, as young players go through, you know, that first and second year, we're even seeing lots of growth in Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in their second years. So those first couple of years for a wide receiver are important. His growth just got slowed by the injury."

Last year, rookie wide receivers were all the rage. Six of them, including Matthews, had at least 65 receptions. Five, including Matthews, had at least 800 receiving yards. Six, including Matthews, had at least six touchdown catches.

This year, not so much. Cooper, who has 70 catches for 1,050 yards and six touchdowns, is the only one of the six wide receivers taken in the first round who has had much of an impact. He is the only rookie wideout in the top 50 in the league in receptions. The next highest is the Redskins' Jamison Crowder (52nd), a fourth-rounder, who has 52 catches. Stefon Diggs, a fifth-round pick with the Vikings, has 47. Seahawks third-rounder Tyler Lockett has 46.

Shurmur disagreed with a suggestion that Agholor has been put in a situation he's not ready to handle.

"I don't think it's too big for him," he said. "I think he continues to get better each week."

Agholor has been held without a catch in two of the previous three games. He was targeted only twice in 33 snaps in the Eagles' 35-28 win over the Patriots in Week 13, and only once in 57 snaps Sunday night against Arizona when he was shadowed the entire night by Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals' two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler.

Agholor insisted that getting shut out Sunday night did not affect his confidence, particularly given who was covering him.

"It's actually a tribute to have a guy like Patrick Peterson following me around the whole game," he said. "It tells you the guy respects your game and he's going to come ready to go.

"What I have to do, if he respects me, I have to show him why he respects me and play harder and make plays."

But 57 snaps and no catches?

"I don't really pay attention to that," he said. "I just play the game. I was trying to run to get open. The guy in front of me was playing hard, and my job was to try as hard as I possibly can to get open and create separation."

Shurmur said Agholor's October ankle injury set him back and suggested he still hasn't come all the way back from it.

"He's out there competing," he said. "I think he continues to get better physically each week. Last week, for most of the game, he was playing against Patrick Peterson. He actually did some good things against him. But we weren't really throwing in that direction."

Blaming the lack of catches by a receiver on the fact that the ball is being thrown elsewhere is kind of, well, lame.

If Agholor was regularly getting open and an offense that is 23rd in yards per attempt, 21st in touchdown passes and 16th in passing yards wasn't throwing him the ball, somebody would have some 'splainin' to do.

"Typically, our plays are formatted right side-left side, depending on what hash we're on or where we're at," Shurmur said.

"It's on the wide receiver to get open. If the play is designed to go to the right, typically that route is in conjunction with the concept that they may take away that route and you throw it someplace else."

Agholor has been targeted 36 times this season. His 52.7 catch percent rate is the lowest among all of the team's receivers, including tight ends and running backs.

All of the news hasn't been bad. He played well against the Redskins in the first meeting, and had a productive game against the Bills two weeks ago.

Considering the playoff stakes Saturday night, the Eagles could really, really use another eventful game from him against a very beatable Redskins defense that is 22nd in opponent passer rating (96.2), 22nd in opponent yards per attempt (7.7) and 20th in TD passes allowed (26).

"When you get drafted by a team, you have to do everything you possibly can to help that team win football games," Agholor said. "You've got to block. You've got to run hard. Everybody has a job on a team and you have to do your job well."

He's right. But Agholor wasn't drafted in the first round and given a four-year, $9.4 million contract just to block and run hard. He was drafted that high and given all that money to catch passes and help put points on the board.

"I love to play the position, but I also love to be a part of a team that wins football games," he said. "My job is to play as hard as I can to help us win football games. That's my goal.

"I understand what my job description is, as far as the wide receiver is supposed to catch the football and stuff. But as a competitor, it's about winning football games. And you have to win them however you can."

True, but take this to the bank: If Agholor doesn't catch a pass again Saturday night, the 6-8 Eagles can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

On Twitter: @Pdomo