No excuses: Nelson Agholor moving on from rookie season


Nelson Agholor isn’t making excuses for his disappointing rookie season. But others are.

Agholor suffered a high ankle sprain midway through his rookie year, and while he missed only three games, it's the type of injury that can linger. Who knows how long the Eagles' 2015 first-round draft pick was slowed by a bad wheel?

To his credit, Agholor never used the injury to garner sympathy, and apparently he never will. Instead, on Tuesday, the 23-year-old accepted responsibility for the disappointing season and vowed to move on.

"There's no excuse about my health. I've got to make more plays," Agholor said.

"End of the day, my body was what it was, but I need to make more plays and I was given opportunities. Now I'm on to this year and my focus is to prize every possession I get."

Others are a little more understanding of the situation with Agholor's health in his rookie campaign. Eagles teammate and fellow wide receiver Jordan Matthews, for example, insists a high ankle sprain is "no joke."

"I think people can really underestimate how much an injury can affect you, not just physically but also mentally," Matthews said. "And he's not a big guy, he's a guy who uses his speed, he's got bounce to him in his routes, so when you take that away, especially your first year in the NFL, it can make it a little bit more difficult for you.

"Now that he's healthy, I'm praying he stays that way and he can continue to be that burst for us. I feel like he's gonna have a huge impact for us."

The Eagles were looking for a major contribution from Agholor last season, drafting him with the 20th overall selection and quickly installing him as a starter. However, results did not immediately follow — he finished 2015 with just 23 receptions, 283 yards and one touchdown.

It was a far cry from the hype that began building after the Eagles' first preseason game. Early in the action, Agholor caught a quick pass that looked like it would go for a short gain. Instead, he turned on the jets and accelerated by the Colts secondary' like they were standing still for a 34-yard touchdown.

That explosiveness wasn't on display much after that, but Matthews believes he's watching it once again during OTAs.

"You can tell he's back healthy," Matthews said. "He caught a little short post today, and the way he caught it and stuck his foot in the ground and got vertical, that's the Nelson I'm used to.

"Everybody has things to work on, but there's always one thing that they're just naturally good at, and Nelson's transition from catch to run is crazy. I think he's on a level that a lot of guys aren't. When you have a guy like that, you just have to get the ball in his hands."

Getting the ball in his hands was a big part of the problem. Despite the poor numbers, Agholor was actually targeted 44 times last season, which means only 52.7 percent of passes that came his way were caught.

Injury or not, Agholor knows he left some plays out on the field too.

"I would never ever say anything that I didn't truly believe, and I believed if I kept the tape on, there were times where I did not seize that moment," Agholor admitted.

"I don't care how many times I was targeted. It never came down to me because if I caught every pass that came my way, that would mean more to me than if I was targeted 100 times and I caught only 40 percent of them. I needed to make sure I have a high completion when targeted, and I didn't do that."

In spite of a tough rookie season, Agholor could still be a major player in the Eagles' receiving corps moving forward. At this point, only Matthews has distinguished himself from the group. Of the rest of the competition — namely 2014 third-round pick Josh Huff and free agents Rueben Randle and Chris Givens — the organization has the most invested in Agholor.

"I look at last season and I say, 'I did not take advantage of a great opportunity,' and at the end of the day, that's what I must do this year," Agholor said. "I'm still in a position to take advantage of a great opportunity, and that's what I've got to do."

Agholor may well turn out to be the most talented of the bunch as well. The USC product drew comparisons to former Eagles wideout Jeremy Maclin on draft day because of almost identical measureables — 6-foot, 198 pounds with 4.42 speed.

There's a feeling that Agholor may be better set up to succeed in 2016 as well, and not only because he's healthy. Aside from the jump many players experience in Year 2, Agholor is also very complimentary of new wide receivers coach Greg Lewis, who played eight years in the NFL, including six with the Eagles.

"[Lewis] talks every day about the little details, and when he tells you something, he tells you from experience, not just from, 'Hey, I cut on the tape,'" Agholor said. "He knows what it takes to be consistent ... how you get defenders off their heels and you don't have any hints when you're running routes. And he can show you, so I like that."

Agholor also believes having additional time to build a rapport with quarterback Sam Bradford could go a long way. Last year at this time, Bradford was still recovering from a torn ACL and was brought along slowly all the way up until the start of the regular season in September.

"Right now it's great because this is where you kind of build that camaraderie," Agholor said. "The quarterback, you get to see it off his hand, the route is thrown in the air multiple times, you catch it from the pat-and-go, and all that kind of stuff helps. You don't just play three preseason (games), now he's throwing it to you live.

"We're getting the reps right now, we're talking, and I'm older, so I'm communicating to him better. I'm talking his lingo, I'm thinking his brain. It makes it easy."

Perhaps most of all, Agholor's chance to succeed rests in his approach to the game. He's not resting on the physical ability that made him a first-round choice or content to merely have made it to the NFL.

Agholor said he's all about progressing in his second season, and he's focused on doing all of the little things it takes to improve.

"It's comes down to be a true pro in Year 2," Agholor stated. "Year 1, I tried my best to do what I thought was to be a pro, but after a year in, now you have to take it to the next level."

His teammates are certainly taking notice. Matthews admits Agholor has something to prove in 2016, but adds that he's taking everything in stride.

"There's two things I look for, and it's attitude and it's effort," Matthews said. "He gives great effort and he has a great attitude every time he comes in, so as long as he's got that, I want him on this team.

"He's doing his thing, so I know there's gonna be results."

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