Sometimes, the best change of scenery can just be a few tweaks to your current surroundings.
Nelson Agholor had a dismal rookie season. The first-round pick was the fourth wide receiver off the board in 2015. He finished his first season as a pro with 22 catches for 283 yards and one touchdown, the kind of output you expect from a borderline fourth or fifth wide receiver, not a man taken to be a starting wideout for the next eight years.
In an offense spinning its wheels in most areas, Agholor simply couldn’t get a rhythm going.
He only had two games of 50+ yards last year, and only one touchdown in 16 games. He had zero games with four receptions, and five games with either one catch or no catches at all.
All told, Agholor was targeted 44 times in 2015. He caught 23 of those targets. His catch rate was a very, very bad 52.3 percent. It seemed like every time he did something well, he would follow it up with a drop, or an incorrectly run route, or even a fumble. It was almost a one-to-one ratio.
Then the Eagles fired the man who drafted him, Chip Kelly, and they traded away the two men who were throwing him the ball, Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez. Enter Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz, the face of the team’s future and, at least for one week, a far better fit for a seemingly rejuvenated Agholor.
Agholor was targeted at least four times in seven games last year. In those seven games, he never managed to catch four passes. He was targeted five times on Sunday, and he caught four of those five passes.
I went back on Monday and watched each of Agholor’s targets from last season. He never struggled with catching routes like this curl, which he executed really well on Sunday.
That was his bread and butter last year, if such a thing existed. Agholor’s enough of a speed threat that most corners would rather give him eight yards and keep him in front of them than try to shut down the curl and let him get free over the top.
What he struggled with, then, were routes that sent him down the field and asked him to make a catch running vertically. He succeeded on a few, including that one-handed catch against Washington, but the brunt of his inconsistency came on these plays. Let’s not forget this one:
While an under-thrown ball, that’s a pass a pro wide receiver can’t drop, ever.
Which is why the most impressive play of the afternoon, of course, was Agholor’s one-two move on All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden for a 35-yard touchdown pass from Wentz.
After the game, Agholor said he’s been working on getting that kind of separation.
"[It’s the] same thing I do every day in practice going against corners like CJ Smith and Nolan Carroll," Agholor said. "Just work my releases and train. The things I train I put into play.
"I worked my release like I have been trained to do and found a way to get separation."
At the NFL Combine last winter, Agholor ran a a 4.42 40-yard dash, the exact same time as the Raiders’ Amari Cooper. Agholor’s an inch shorter and about 10 pounds lighter than Cooper, and, to be explicitly clear, he’s not nearly as talented as Cooper.
But physically, it’s essentially all there for Agholor, a medium-sized wide receiver with advantageous speed. On his first touchdown of the 2016 season, Agholor took that athleticism, paired it with a clean, simple route, and flat-out beat a cornerback for 35 yards and six points.
He finished the game with four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. Removing the touchdown, that puts him on pace for 64 catches and 912 yards, numbers Eagles fans would certainly welcome.
It’s hard to overrate how important this first solid first outing could end up being for Agholor’s development. He saw 67 snaps on Sunday, 87 percent of the offense’s action. Pederson expects Agholor to be a consistent contributor in his offense. After last season’s display, it was more than fair to question whether Agholor could rise to that task.
The jury is still very much out. The true test of consistency will be Agholor playing that way from game to game. But Sunday, we saw the side of Nelson Agholor that Eagles have been waiting for since last May.