ONCE UPON A TIME, the Eagles drafted a player whom the odds suggested would never achieve stardom. His 40-yard time ranked outside the top 10 of his position group, as did his bench press. His stature was average or worse across the board: height (29th percentile), weight (42nd percentile), hand size (37th percentile), arm length (54th percentile). To carve out a future as even a serviceable player, he would have to show that he could put himself in position to make plays in the face of resistance far stiffer than any he'd faced in college. He would also have to convert a high percentage of those makable plays, for he was not physically equipped to make the transcendent ones.
For all of these reasons, the Eagles were able to nab their guy at a point in the draft where the probability of success has a high degree of volatility. He was the fourth player off the board at his position. Only one of the three players drafted before him has amounted to much of anything. None of the four players selected immediately after him has outperformed him. Previous years' drafts suggested that at least three or four of these players would blossom into legitimate NFL players. Yet those same drafts suggested that as least as many would fade into oblivion.
By no means were these odds insurmountable - more of a coin flip than a Hail Mary - but in investment terms, this was an asset that carried significant risk.
With these disclosures in mind, it shouldn't surprise anybody to learn that the player in question has ended up having a rough go of it in the NFL. You win some, you lose some, right?
Of course, there's a catch. The player in question is Nelson Agholor: the No. 20 pick in the 2015 draft, fourth wide receiver off the board after Amari Cooper, Kevin White and DeVante Parker, predecessor to Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett, Devin Smith and Dorial Green-Beckham, all drafted within the next 20 picks. Agholor: on paper, the kind of player who entered the NFL with a 50/50 chance of leaving it with a legacy that consists of little more than dropped passes and costly penalties. Yet after Agholor committed a pair of costly gaffes in a 25-14 to the Seahawks on Sunday, you'd have thought that the fans and media in this city had just watched the unraveling of Howard Hughes himself.
Agholor's anguished comments in the wake of Sunday's loss certainly contributed to the narrative that has emerged regarding his failure to establish himself as a productive member of the Eagles' offense. But even if the second-year player is, as he said, inside his own head, that doesn't mean that he will suddenly become a legitimate NFL receiver once he gets out of it. In fact, everything we've seen since the Eagles drafted him out of USC suggests that his mental struggles are more than likely a symptom of his physical failures rather than a cause. It won't matter how many sports psychologists he sees if one of them doesn't tell him to put on 15 pounds of muscle between his nipples and his knees.
The best way to deal with failure is to stop failing, and Agholor will do that only if he starts playing his position like a full-grown man: winning leverage battles, maintaining his route through contact, and expanding his catch radius. All of that takes a certain kind of body composition and control, and Agholor simply does not have it.
Neither does Green-Beckham for that matter, at least not the control part of things. Take DGB off a football field and make him play the "five" on a basketball court and take Jimmy Graham off the low block and make him catch balls in traffic on a football field and see who fares better. It's about body control, hand-eye coordination, fast-twitch muscle fiber, core strength.
In other words, it isn't about grit or smarts or mental fortitude. Those things can maximize the way talent and athleticism expresses themselves in a given situation, but they can't make up for the lack of them. That's not to say that Agholor isn't a good athlete or a talented catcher of footballs, just that he isn't good enough or talented enough to be what the Eagles need him to be in their scheme. Or, at least, he hasn't been in the year-and-a-half since they drafted him. And that really shouldn't be cause for as much consternation as is being heaped upon the guy.
Perhaps Agholor is as much a victim of our expectations as he is his own mind. While everybody was penciling him into their starting lineups and naming him Jeremy Maclin's heir apparent, this was the reality:
From 2010 to 2015, 11 receivers were drafted from 20th to 32nd overall. Four of them turned out to be stars - Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins and Kelvin Benjamin - but five have been unmitigated busts: Agholor, A.J. Jenkins (No. 30), Jonathan Baldwin (No. 26), Breshad Perriman (No. 26), and Cordarrelle Patterson (No. 29).
That ratio is pretty standard for any draft window you select involving picks 20 through 32:
2005-09: 11 receivers drafted.
Star (4): Santonio Holmes, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, Dwayne Bowe.
Serviceable (3): Percy Harvin, Robert Meachem, Kenny Britt.
Bust (4): Matt Jones, Mark Clayton, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez.
2000-04: Seven receivers drafted.
Star (1): Reggie Wayne.
Serviceable (2) Michael Jenkins, Javon Walker.
Bust (4): Freddie Mitchell, Sylvester Morris, Rashaun Woods, R. Jay Soward.
So of the 29 receivers drafted at the bottom of the first round, 13 have turned out to be busts. That's a rate of 45 percent, or roughly one of every two. If we bet on heads and it came up tails, we wouldn't immediately commission a four-day study to determine why George Washington didn't live up to his potential. We'd just shrug and say, "Dem's da breaks."
Agholor may very well be putting too much pressure on himself to live up to expectations, whether ours or his own. But the real problem may very well be those expectations.