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Bowen: Agholor remains a perplexing player

EAGLES FANS surely would agree their team could use a wide receiver whose draft tracker profile reads as follows:

Nelson Algholor has not lived up to some of his predraft profiles.
Nelson Algholor has not lived up to some of his predraft profiles.Read more(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

EAGLES FANS surely would agree their team could use a wide receiver whose draft tracker profile reads as follows:

"Runs a good route and competes hard on every snap. Able to drive defender into a poor leverage position. Bouncy, quick feet for burst out of breaks. Adequate separation quickness and twitch. Understands his position. Will improvise to get open for scrambling quarterback. Highly instinctive in space with consistent feel for working his way to open spaces as a presentable, ready target. Almost always works his way back to the throw when needed. Natural hands. Has snatch-and-run readiness after the catch with initial quickness to make things happen."

Or a guy whom ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. described this way: "Great separation skills and can beat you from the slot or the outside."

Or a guy whom NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah compared to Denver Pro Bowl receiver Emmanuel Sanders, grouping them as "smooth athletes who make hay as excellent route-runners."

One problem, though. All those were depictions of USC's Nelson Agholor in the predraft process, before the Eagles selected him 20th overall in 2015.

Yes, the Nelson Agholor who clanked a third-and-1 catch, ending a series Sunday against the Falcons. The Nelson Agholor whose first catch in that game - for 4 yards - had to be awarded via challenge, because he juggled the ball as he slid toward the sideline. The Nelson Agholor whose second and final catch Sunday, for 3 yards, was greeted by derisive cheers from the crowd, like what a goalie gets when he has just let in three bad goals, then makes a routine save.

The Nelson Agholor who compiled the fewest yards per route in the league as a rookie, and whose yards-per-catch average has actually dropped from Year 1 to Year 2, from 12.3 (23 catches for 283 yards) to 9.8 (27 catches for 264 yards).

The Nelson Agholor who was supposed to replace Jeremy Maclin, when then-coach Chip Kelly let Kansas City outbid him for the Eagles' 2009 first-round pick. Agholor was often compared to Maclin during the draft process. The night he made the pick, Kelly extolled Agholor's "growth mindset" and said he was "exactly what we're looking for in a football player."

After his first two seasons with the Eagles, Maclin had 126 catches for 1,737 yards. So Agholor needs only 76 catches for 1,190 yards over the Eagles' final seven games to become a mirror image of JMac, after his second season. Roughly 11 catches for 170 yards, every game.

Agholor said Wednesday he didn't really notice the crowd reaction Sunday.

"My teammates and my coaches weren't getting on me," he said. "That's important to me - to try to do my job for teammates and my coaches."

But this is not what Agholor envisioned, either. He knows he is not where he ought to be, where he needs to be, for a team whose lack of weapons is its biggest shortcoming.

Two things seem likely:

1. He was never really a first-round talent, lacking both exceptional size (6-0, 198) and speed (4.42 40), along with the kind of power in the legs that gives you that quick burst of separation or carries you through a jam at the line.

2. Even so, he is better than the way he is playing right now. Agholor presents himself as a conscientious person who works hard. Being this unsuccessful deep into his second season has eaten away at his confidence, made his play uptight and jittery.

On that first point, an opposing team's general manager, asked Wednesday what he thinks of Agholor, said: "Bottom line, there just isn't anything remarkable or unusual about his skill set. He has OK size, OK speed, above-average quickness, but nothing special in any of these categories. He does have decent toughness, but he's not a strong player, either, and this limits him from making the tough contested catches and escaping press. He does have good instincts and enough skill to have a role offensively."

On the second point: "I personally think that sometimes it's just the person themself," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said earlier this month, when asked about Agholor's struggles. "I think that sometimes you can't get out of your way. I think you press too much, I think you try too hard. Because you're hearing all of the outside noise from the media and the fans, you're trying to do too much. It bothers you individually and so I think that's what is happening with Nelson right now. He's a talented, talented wide receiver."

Agholor's best game this season was the opener against the Browns, in which his four catches for 57 yards included a 35-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz. Since catching four passes for 42 yards the next week at Chicago, he has reached four catches and 40 yards only once, despite playing more than three-quarters of the Eagles' snaps.

"You can always relax. Sometimes you just need to relax and take everything day by day," Agholor said.

Isn't that difficult, given the situation?

"It can be, at times, but that's where I am right now," he said. "I have very high expectations of myself and what I want to do. But I think I need to look at this - and I will continue to look at it - as a 'It's going to be where you finish, not where you start' type mentality."

Although some fans will spit coffee all over their keyboards when they read this, Agholor might be right that all is not necessarily lost. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Wednesday he did a study a few years back that showed, for a lot of receivers, the jump comes between Year 2 and Year 3. But Mayock also is puzzled by what he has seen so far. He was one of those comparing Agholor to Maclin at the time of the draft. He declared then that the Eagles "are going to love him."

"I don't think there's any easy answer," Mayock said. "You can see pieces" of what Agholor was supposed to become, little moves or catches here and there. But overall, "I just don't see a confident receiver at all. I see a hesitant guy."

Mayock, who recalled Agholor's 200-yard games against Cal and Washington State during his final college season, said the two biggest adjustments for receivers coming to the NFL are getting off press coverage, which they don't see much of in college, and recognizing coverages, since a coverage change can alter a route. A guy who isn't sure of what he's seeing plays much slower than his 40 speed.

"It paralyzes you," Mayock said. These seem to be issues for Agholor. What did Agholor expect to happen in the NFL, after catching 104 passes his senior season with the Trojans?

"I always thought the league was going to be a league that will help you grow," Agholor said. "That's what this is right now - this is a great opportunity for me to become a better man, well-rounded man - more battle-tested. To grow . . . It's been exactly what I wanted it to be."