The calm before the storm: Anticipating the Nelson Agholor breakout
For the most part, things have been quiet on the Nelson Agholor front since the Philadelphia Eagles selected him in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. During spring practices, Agholor ran with the second and sometimes third team offenses behind Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Miles Austin and sometimes even veteran Seyi Ajirotutu.
The storm is on it’s way, and when it breaks, the buzz surrounding Agholor will be overwhelming. Sound the alarm if you’re a fantasy footballer–this is your first official alert. Get Agholor on your radar and make sure you snag him in your drafts.
Agholor’s unique lateral agility and explosion make him difficult to contain in and out of breaks. This will continue to be his unique advantage at the next level. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished 2014 having forced 17 missed tackles–the sixth-highest total of any receiver in his class. His explosiveness and speed are very similar to the Eagles’ most productive wide receiver in 2014–Jeremy Maclin.
Picking up the nuances of the NFL are not easy for a rookie, and in order to inherit Maclin’s role at some point in 2015, he will need to first prove that he is ready for the responsibility. All accounts have described Agholor as a hard worker with the right mentality and a great approach to the game. One NFL executive described him as a true No. 1 wide receiver that would take over as the Eagles’ top option sooner than expected.
In his final season at USC, Agholor finished with 1,306 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. In eight games, Agholor turned in at least one explosive play of 20+ yards. He finished off his strong season with consecutive 200+ yard receiving games. According to Pro Football Focus, Agholor reeled in 76.3 percent of passes thrown his way–good for the sixth-best rate among all wide receivers selected in the 2015 NFL Draft.
As mentioned above, Agholor ran behind second-year wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, and behind veterans Riley Cooper and Mile Austin. Huff struggled with drops and concentration lapses throughout spring practices. Cooper was awful as a starter in 2014 — he finished 110th out of 110 qualifiers at wide receiver, according to Pro Football Focus. Austin is a shell of his former self. Talent always rises to the top, and Agholor is arguably the best or second best talent in this group.
In 2014, the Eagles led the NFL in deep pass attempts with 96, and 55 of those went to Cooper and Maclin. Cooper managed to drop two of his seven deep targets deemed catchable. Don’t expect new Eagles QB Sam Bradford to make the same mistake and target Cooper 21 times again in 2015.
Agholor has deep speed in his repertoire as well–he ran an official 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He also made many explosive plays over the top in 2014 at USC. There are big plays for the taking in this Eagles offense, and it won’t take long for Kelly to recognize that Agholor gives the team a better chance at completing these plays than Cooper and/or Huff.
Agholor’s inevitable breakout won’t only come in the receiving game. He is an excellent return man, and if the Eagles give him a chance to win this job, he should run away with it. In 2014, he averaged 13.0 yards per punt return and scored two touchdowns on just 14 total returns.
It will be interesting to see where the Eagles deploy Agholor in 2015. He saw his 843 offensive snaps in 2014, and he split those snaps on the outside and in the slot. Agholor’s skill set makes him dynamic in the slot, but smaller framed wider receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown have proven that prospects with this build can also dominate on the outside.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has mentioned that he would prefer to keep Matthews in the slot, and this would mean that Agholor’s best shot at earning playing time would come in a competition with Cooper, Huff and Austin on the outside. I believe that Kelly will eventually settle on some kind of combination based on down and distance–Agholor will get his due in the slot.
The breakout is coming, and it’s going to happen a lot sooner than people realize at this moment.
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