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June 15, 2017

Doug Pederson impressed with Eagles' newest slot receiver, Nelson Agholor

Eagles NFL

Philadelphia hasn't always been sunny for Nelson Agholor since Chip Kelly drafted him with the 20th-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. 

In 28 games, the wideout from USC has caught just 59 passes for 648 yards and three touchdowns. His struggles became magnified last season following the arrival of Carson Wentz, as Agholor found himself in a tough spot, where each additional drop increased the level of scrutiny, creating more pressure for Agholor, and making it more likely he dropped the next one as well.

The season quickly snowballed out of control for Agholor, and when the team added a pair of veteran outside receivers in free agency, plus another two in the draft, many felt as though his time in Philly could be coming to an end.

But after an impressive spring that saw him move to the slot in place of an injured Jordan Matthews, the 24-year-old is starting to look like he could be in line for a breakout season. He's not only caught the attention of those covering the team, but his coach as well.

“I’ll tell you, he’s been explosive in there," Doug Pederson said of Agholor on Thursday, following the final minicamp practice of the summer. "He’s made some big plays for us in there this spring. And his confidence level is high right now. I’m excited to see him grow in that position, and it’s been valuable for him.”

Agholor seems more comfortable in the slot, a position that's belonged to Matthews since his arrival. The drops that plagued him in previous years weren't prevalent in camp. The lack of confidence he displayed in the past? That also seems gone as well.

Perhaps that's due to the fact that he prefers the inside routes. Perhaps it's because he no longer feels the pressure of being the team's No. 2 receiver (and de-facto No. 1 as the top outside WR when Matthews was in the slot); instead, he's closer to Wentz's fourth option.

Either way, those free agent acquisitions, the ones that many thought would lead to Agholor being released or traded, may wind up being the best thing that's happened to him since arriving in Philadelphia. 

“A lot of times, it’s just a personal thing," Pederson said. "I think you’re dealing with, you know, [he's] going through a whole mental thought process, thinking what he can do to get better and just going out there and attacking the day. Mike Groh’s done a great job with him, just preparing him, with the addition of Torrey [Smith] and Alshon [Jeffery], to kind of take that step back and not that pressure of every day having to perform. 

"It’s really helped him. And I’m excited to now get into camp and extend his role, hopefully there in the slot and outside as well. Again, he’s a multiple-position player that we can utilize on offense.”

As for those drops that plagued not just Agholor, but the team as a whole, they seem to be down overall (even though rookie Shelton Gibson is doing his best to bring the class average up). Agholor's improvement, however, has been the most dramatic. 

And part of the reason, according to Pederson, is improved chemistry with his quarterback now that Wentz has a full season under his belt.

"The drops are down, obviously, this year," Pederson said. "The one thing that’s been a little more impressive are the contested catches. When the defender’s kind of – those bang-bang plays – we’ve been able to catch a few more of those, which is good to see. 

"They’ve worked extremely hard together, working on chemistry. Now they have some time away, and we’ve got to spend the first couple days in camp getting that back. But it’s been a good spring for them.”

The Eagles coach won't have to worry too much about that chemistry disappearing in the month and a half before training camp begins. Several receivers, including Jeffery, Smith and TE Zach Ertz, will be heading out to North Dakota with Wentz to get some extra work in before they have to be back in Philly.

And that's music to his ears.

“I think it’s huge," Pederson said. "I think it just shows the leadership that Carson has and the rapport he has with the receivers and the confidence he has in those guys. It’s something that’s exciting, as a coach, to know your guys are getting together over these next couple of weeks and working on their craft. 

"It means something to them; it’s important to them.”

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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