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November 24, 2016

'This is a hard place to play receiver': Eagles' Matthews offers insightful commentary on Agholor

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Like the rest of the media outlets in this city, we've already written plenty on struggling Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor. And given that almost all of it has concerned the six inches between his ears rather than his play on the football field, it would be safe to say that we're rapidly approaching over-saturation.

"You know, I think a lot of the pressure is [from the] outside more than [it is] internal, quite honestly," head coach Doug Pederson said of Agholor's situation on Wednesday. "I think that's where the pressure stems from. People put expectations on players and I think some of it might be warranted, while some of it's not. I think it is just a matter of the fact he's in a new scheme change and he's learning some new techniques and learning some new plays. I think sometimes that's where a lot of the pressure is added, is external. I still have confidence in him and obviously, we'll see as the week goes."

Perhaps some of that pressure is warranted given his lack of production to this point in his career -- 50 catches (on 95 targets) for 547 yards and two touchdowns in 23 games -- combined with the first-round pick label that is currently following him like a scarlet letter. But it's becoming a bit much.

Yes, I realize the irony of me writing about Agholor while simultaneously lamenting the amount of coverage he's received this week. But that being said, the comments made by fellow wideout Jordan Matthews on Wednesday are worth hearing. 

You may get snippets of them sprinkled in to other Agholor stories or hear a soundbite or two. But his full comments, specifically three of his answers, were better than any of the stories or columns I've read about the second-year receiver out of USC.

The first is the one with the juicy quote I decided to use for my headline. It's not taken out of context and, based on the reaction that quote received on Twitter, many of you likely disagree. But take a second to read his full quote and you may feel a little differently. 

"I told you guys, I don't sugarcoat anything. This is a hard place to play receiver. I think any receiver who has ever played for the Eagles will definitely come and tell you that. When we make mistakes, we don't make mistakes in the trenches where it takes you guys like six games to figure it out. No, it's like wide open. And there's nobody else but us, the ball and Jesus. So everybody's going to know when you make that mistake. 

"Like I said, you guys have to do your jobs. This is just a bigger media market, so there's more people doing the same job, and it's not just one guy writing one article, it's seven. Therefore it seems worse than it is. And then, it's in a heavily populated city that loves its football, so that makes it seem worse than it is. 

"But what are the cold facts? Are you playing well or are you not? I think that's something where if you're not playing well, and you guys are on top of somebody, then it's like 'OK, they're telling the truth' and I'm internalizing it because I haven't been playing well. But, like I said, for Nelson's case, I think he's played extremely hard and I know that he hasn't played as well as he wants to, but just from talking to him I don't think that the media or the outside stuff is what's made made him as upset as he's been. I just think he feels like he's worked his butt off and he hasn't seen the fruits of those labors yet. 

"But to answer your question, yeah, definitely. It can be harder on some guys to play in a place like this, but you just can't worry about it."

If you think that sounds like excuse making, you're free to do so, but he's spot on about the number of media outlets covering the team compared to others. Is it on Agholor to block that out? Yes, but don't forget that he's just 23 years old. Physically, he has the tools -- even if he isn't quite there yet mentally. That's why it will always confuse me when fans spend so much time and energy crushing a player like that, essentially ruining any chance he had of ever putting it all together. 

Moving on, here's the second quote from Matthews that was particularly interesting:

"I think the pressure comes in when you think you have to live up to 'first-round pick.' That's where the problem is. If you're living up to being Nelson Agholor and you're just working your butt off and doing the best you can, then who is the only person who knows if you're doing that? It's Nelson. So if you're doing that, you can have peace with it. 

"If you guys go to work every single day -- ya'll don't have a million people watching you, but at the end of the day, if you're not working hard, you're not going to be at peace with it. If you guys do your job 100 percent, you can go home and say, 'You know what, I did my best. I'm good.' That's the same thing Nelson has to feel. He can't worry about all the other things, whether it's the media, whether it's fans, whether it's this first-round pick label. No. Because once you start trying to do that, then you're trying to live up to something that was never a burden meant for you to bear anyway. He's just got to try to shed that away, take a little bit of time mentally, and then come back and get in the game. Because the kid works hard. I mean, he works extremely hard. 

"If we're talking about a dude who doesn't have a good attitude and doesn't give good effort, I'd have nothing to say on the subject. Because attitude and effort, that's two things that, if you don't bring that, I don't even want you. You deserve everything you get. Nelson's a classic case right now of a kid who's not getting exactly what he deserves. He puts in the time, but he hasn't seen the fruits of his labor yet. So what does that say about him? Maybe it's just not his time yet. But that doesn't mean that he's going to stop working and that doesn't mean that he's not a good football player. 

"I think he's a great football player. I know he's going to help this team out and we want him to help this team out. So we're going to stick by his side."

And, finally, Matthews relates Agholor's struggles to his own, both at Vanderbilt and last season with the Eagles.  

"I think the reason why I don't worry about Nelson too much is the same reason why -- it was kind of the same thing that happened to me. When I was at Vanderbilt, it got to a point in my freshman year where I was wasn't playing and I was like, 'Dude, if I can't play at Vanderbilt, I can't play anywhere.' [Laugh] That was a joke; I love you guys. But at the same time, I just wasn't playing that much and I got really discouraged and I was like, 'I think I want to transfer somewhere else because I'm not even playing here and I really think I should be getting more reps and stuff. And my dad was like, 'Look, are you going out and working hard every single day?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm working hard.' And he said to keep doing that; if you have a standard of work, then that's what you hang your hat on. A hard working man does the right thing whether the right thing comes about. You can't control that, but you can control doing the right thing. 

"And so that's what I've always hung my hat on. Even last year, when I was struggling a little bit, I said, 'Am I doing the right thing?' And when I looked in the mirror I could honestly tell myself, 'Yes. I'm coming in and I'm working every day. I'm trying to focus on the details. So at some point it's going to get better.' And I feel like it has. 

"Then mentally, you don't put yourself in a situation in a situation where you're trying to live up to a certain label. You only have to live up to your name. You don't have to live up to any earthly label. And that's what I think Nelson's realized. It's something I've realized. People start saying, 'Oh, you're a second-round pick; you're a No. 1 receiver; or you're a first-round pick.' Well that's what the earth, what people tell you. But you're Nelson Agholor. You go be the best Nelson Agholor you can be and that's what's going to help us out as a team and that's what's going to keep you at peace. And that's something that I think he's going to realize and something that I've been telling him. But at the same time, I think he's definitely going to grow and I think he's going to be a much better player afterward."

Reading these quotes might not have changed how you feel about Agholor one bit, and that's fine. They weren't meant to do that – at least not entirely. With all the negative stuff being written about the reeling receiver, it only seemed fair to present the other, more human side to his struggles.

Matthews, perhaps not surprisingly, just happened to be the guy who summed it up perfectly.


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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