There were no tears shed by Eagles fans in March when wide receiver Nelson Agholor signed with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Despite the valuable contribution he made to the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl effort – 62 receptions, including a team-high 22 third-down catches, and nine catches for 84 yards against the Patriots in Super Bowl LII – Agholor was viewed largely as a first-round disappointment (No. 20 overall in 2015) who had two good years out of five in Philly, who was paid $9 million last year and had three touchdown catches, who dropped too many passes, and who, during one bout of self-doubt, told reporters, “I got to get out of my own head.”
After he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in a 27-24 loss to Detroit last year, he was even dissed by a guy who caught a baby who was tossed from a second-floor window of a burning building. The gentleman punctuated the description of his life-saving heroics by saying, “Unlike Agholor ... ”
As is often the case with athletes we run out of town, Agholor has found peace, happiness, and yes, success, elsewhere.
He has 24 catches for 443 yards and six touchdowns for the 6-4 Raiders. He has a team-high eight receptions of 20 or more yards, including four for TDs. He’s averaging 18.5 yards per catch, which is the fourth-best YPC average in the league.
Agholor, who signed a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with the Raiders, has played 66% of his team’s offensive snaps, which is the most by any of their wide receivers, including first-round pick Henry Ruggs. Most of his snaps have been outside, as the “Z’' wide receiver in Jon Gruden’s offense.
This is noteworthy because the general conclusion on Agholor during his five seasons with the Eagles was that he was strictly a slot guy who wasn’t fast enough to play outside.
But Gruden and Raiders general manager Mike Mayock didn’t agree with that assessment. They believed Agholor could play inside or outside. Much of his deep success in the Raiders’ first 10 games has come outside.
Mayock, who had spent 16 years as the NFL Network’s senior draft analyst before taking the Raiders job two years ago, is a Philly native who was acutely aware of Agholor’s ups and downs with the Eagles.
But he was high on Agholor as a college player and didn’t agree with the can-play-only-inside perception. Mayock frequently references a tape he watched of Agholor’s punt returns at USC before the 2015 draft that showed a player who was both quick and fast.
Mayock and Gruden brought in Agholor before they signed him and let him know that he was going to play. No matter whom they drafted or what else they did in free agency, they told him, he was going to be one of their main guys.
Agholor, who often struggled with self-confidence in Philadelphia, needed to hear that. During the offseason, even though OTAs were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and everything was done virtually, Agholor became a leader in the Raiders’ wide receiver room.
While he might not always have lived up to expectations in Philadelphia, Agholor’s work ethic never was a question during his five years with the Eagles, and that has continued to be the case in Las Vegas.
Agholor needed to get out of Philadelphia. He needed a fresh start where “first-round pick” didn’t always precede his name in references. He’s found that in Las Vegas.
“I’m not telling you anything you don’t know,” said one NFL executive. “The East Coast media is tough. There’s no comparison between the media in Philadelphia and the media in Las Vegas.
“I’m not saying that’s good or bad. I’m just saying it’s different. It’s easier for a player to be himself a little bit more and do his job a little bit easier when people aren’t always questioning everything they do or say.”
Agholor grew up in Tampa, Fla., but went to college in Los Angeles. His girlfriend is from California. He seems to prefer the pace and the low-key lifestyle in Las Vegas to both Philadelphia and Tampa.
One of the knocks on Agholor during his time with the Eagles was that he couldn’t track the deep ball. But that hasn’t been a problem so far with the Raiders. Two of his six touchdown catches were 40-plus yards.
In the Raiders’ 31-26, Week 9 win over the Chargers, Agholor caught a 45-yard scoring pass from Derek Carr that was thrown right over his head. He had to fight off Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, who pinned Agholor’s inside arm with an arm bar. Agholor managed to push Hayward’s arm away and got his second arm up just in time to make the catch.
“Almost every wide receiver I’ve ever met needs to be confident,” said a coach for a team that has faced Agholor and the Raiders this season. “Some of them are impervious to that. They’re bulletproof. They’re built differently.
“But most of them really need to be confident about everything they do. They’re like thoroughbreds. They need to feel good mentally and physically.”
Agholor feels very good right now. He loves living in Las Vegas and playing for the Raiders and has told them that he very much wants to re-sign with them.
The feeling appears to be mutual.
The wide receiver crop in last April’s NFL draft was considered one of the best and deepest in history. Six wideouts went in the first round. Thirteen went in the first two rounds, and 37 were selected overall.
The Eagles took advantage of the pass-catching wealth of talent. They took a wide receiver in the first round (Jalen Reagor) and three of them in the first six rounds (Reagor, John Hightower, Quez Watkins).
The wide receiver crop in the 2021 draft could be just as deep as 2020.
“Right now, the trajectory looks like either a similar crop if not better,” said NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell.
Fennell said the production many teams are getting from their rookie wide receivers this season is helping the stock of next year’s class.
“I think a lot of NFL teams are seeing a lot of immediate results from a lot of those receivers that went high last year,” he said. “So I think that trend is going to continue and make teams that much more eager to go get a difference-maker or somebody that can contribute right away. Wide receiver has become a position that is very translatable from Saturdays to Sunday.”
Henry Ruggs was the first wideout taken last year. The Raiders took him with the 12th overall pick. His Alabama teammate, Jerry Jeudy, went 15th to Denver, followed by CeeDee Lamb (17th, Dallas), Reagor (21st), Justin Jefferson (22nd, Minnesota), and Brandon Aiyuk (25th, San Francisco).
LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase is the favorite right now to be the first wide receiver off the board next April, said Fennell. Chase decided not to play this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, after catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 TDs last year as a sophomore for the Tigers’ national championship team.
“It’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind business,” Fennell said. “He hasn’t been in the spotlight in a while. But I’d still be shocked if he wasn’t the first wide receiver off the board.”
Fennell thinks there are potentially six first-round wide receivers right now: Chase, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith, Rashod Bateman of Minnesota, Rondale Moore of Purdue, and Kadarius Toney of Florida.
Waddle suffered a season-ending broken ankle last month. But he is expected to make a full recovery and it shouldn’t affect his draft stock.
1. Ja’Marr Chase
Ben’s take: “Has the complete wide receiver skill set. Tough against press coverage. Excellent yards-after-the-catch receiver. Has strong hands. An alpha player.”
Comp: Andre Rison
2. Rashod Bateman
Ben’s take: “A technical route-runner with excellent hands. Lacks dynamic speed but still wins deep.”
Comp: Davante Adams
3. Tylan Wallace
Ben’s take: “An explosive receiver. Excellent burst and body control. Tough YAC guy. Excellent blocker. Thin frame.”
Comp: Tyler Lockett
4. Chris Olave
Ben’s take: “Has a lean, thin frame. Good burst and suddenness in his routes. Terrific release.”
Comp: Stevie Johnson
5. Terrace Marshall
Ben’s take: “A tall, long, muscular receiver. He’s a big-play threat with long strides.”
Comp: Chris Henry
1. Jaylen Waddle
Ben’s take: ”An explosive speed guy. A vertical threat. A dangerous return guy.”
Comp: Devin Hester
2. Tutu Atwell
Ben’s take: “Track speed. Extremely undersized. Effective screen and vertical weapon.”
Comp: DeSean Jackson
3. Reggie Roberson
Ben’s take: “Has a thick frame. Excellent vertical speed. He’s tough downfield at the catch point.”
Comp: Torrey Smith
4. Marquez Stevenson
Ben’s take: “Instant acceleration. Track speed. Excellent double moves. Yards after the catch.”
Comp: Will Fuller
5. Dyami Brown
Ben’s take: “A three-level threat. Great body control. A good length/speed combination.”
Comp: Mike Wallace
1. Devonta Smith
Ben’s take: “Has a small, thin frame but plays bigger than he is. Competitive at the catch point. Terrific YAC guy.”
Comp: Marvin Harrison
2. Rondale Moore
Ben’s take: “Has a thick, running-back body. Can run in the low 4.3′s. A YAC/RPO/slot wideout.”
Comp: Randall Cobb
3. Kadarius Tony
Ben’s take: “Sharp, sudden, tough. A former Wildcat QB/RB who has been moved to the slot. Another excellent YAC receiver.”
Comp: Percy Harvin
4. Elijah Moore
Ben’s take: “A crafty slot wide receiver. Reliable hands. Great instincts. A first-down chain-mover.”
Comp: Jeremy Kerley
5. Amon-Ra St. Brown
Ben’s take: “An efficient, technical route-runner over the middle of the field. A creative yards-after-the-catch receiver. Good size for the slot.”
Comp: Tyler Boyd
1. Nico Collins, Michigan
2. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
3. Trevon Grimes, Florida
4. Whop Philyor, Indiana
5. Shi Smith, South Carolina
6. Dazz Newsome, North Carolina
7. Demetric Felton, UCLA
8. D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan
9. Jhamon Ausbon, Texas A&M