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December 12, 2017

Next-man-up Eagles should follow the lead of Nelson Agholor

While the Philadelphia fanbase worries about where the team is headed now that Carson Wentz is out for the season, the hope is that others will raise their game, and the poster player for those who can embrace a challenge is Nelson Agholor.

There’s no doubt that Wentz was having an MVP season, but Agholor is having a valuable season on a completely different level. It is hard to imagine any professional athlete in Philadelphia that has ever had a bounce-back season as remarkable as Agholor.

Certainly, there have been other athletes who have rebounded in terms of statistics. For example, Agholor’s teammate Brandon Graham has certainly come back from a slow start to his career, but Agholor’s rebound is far more profound.

If you want numbers, how about 48 receptions for 663 yards and seven touchdowns? Included in those are a 72-yard thriller from Wentz as well as many crucial catches. Who could forget the tribute to DeSean Jackson back in early October when he fell backward into the end zone after he turned around defensive back Budda Baker.

The numbers aren’t Hall of Fame numbers, but what is worthy of some respect is the fact that Agholor has totally revived a career in a city where it would have been easy for him to bury his head in his hands and look for a start somewhere else. Then again, there was a time that if you suggested to Agholor that he bury his head in his hands, he likely would have dropped his head

This past Sunday during a crucial win at Los Angeles over the Rams, Agholor caught eight of the 11 passes directed his way. Perhaps the biggest was the third-down pass from Nick Foles in the final quarter. It kept not only a drive alive but perhaps home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Just the week before, he hauled in seven passes for 141 yards and a touchdown in Seattle. Remember it was in Seattle just last season that Agholor hit rock bottom. It was about the same time of the season when the Eagles were in Seattle and Agholor did not catch a single pass. He also dropped a pass in the red zone – and was lined up illegally on a play that negated a touchdown. Agholor was removed from the lineup after that game, and you had to wonder if that was it for him in Philadelphia.

Then again, there was the matter of his contract, so it seemed like he would be handcuffed to the Eagles with money, while fans simply wanted the Eagles to write the check and send him on his way.

Instead, Agholor has turned his entire career from a path to disaster into a path of redemption, and it happened in a very public fashion.

Rather than hide from the issues of dropping passes, Agholor decided to face them head on, with a daily reminder at early portions of the postseason workouts that stared him down after every practice. During that disastrous 2016 season, Agholor had 36 catches and four big drops.

Drops. Drops. Drops. Drops.

That is what most people remembered about the previous seasons, and that is what Agholor knew he need to fix.

So, during the Eagles’ OTAs, Agholor had a white erase board at his locker on which he tracked his number of drops at practice. Agholor did not try to pretend it was not an issue, instead he highlighted the issue. Scrawled on the board was the phrase “When change is necessary, not to change is destructive.”

For many people, there was a danger that this approach was accentuating the negative. A large part of any athlete’s success or failure is to dismiss the negative, and try to put an accent on the positive. The usual method for getting back on a track to success is to look at what went the right way.

In the case of a baseball player in a slump, the blueprint for breaking that slump is to get video of that player getting hits. The usual path is to see what you did right and put the emphasis on the success. It is very rare to get a highlight reel of the negatives.

It might not be the correct path for most athletes, but it sure appears to have worked for Agholor. In addition, there was the rather important change in his position on the field where he could be placed as a slot receiver, and there was also the matter of the confidence of the people around him.

The Eagles coaching staff had to show confidence that he could turn his career path into a success, and quarterback Carson Wentz had to show that he still had full confidence in his receiver. From the first day, Wentz and the coaching staff made sure Agholor was a big part of the early plans.

The early stories were almost too good to be true. Agholor was targeted and making big plays, and the warning that was silently following every report was simple – “Sure, but wait until it really matters.”

Well, he has done better than any could have expected when it really mattered, and now … it really, really matters.