I feel bad for Nelson Agholor.
Plenty of professional athletes have tried and failed to make it in Philadelphia, and we're no strangers to Eagles first-round draft picks turning out to be busts. It happens, and while there's always a lot of criticism aimed at the player initially, most busts slip under the radar eventually and are able to quietly go about their business, here or someplace else, in one line of work or another.
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Case in point, nobody even talks about Marcus Smith anymore. Taken in the first round one year prior to Agholor, Smith hardly gets on the field, which is probably a good thing because it allows him to operate with a degree of anonymity.
Conversely, Agholor's blunders and lack of production are front and center for the whole world to see, because the Eagles' receiving corps is so lacking for talent, he has to play. And since the 23-year-old is a first-round pick who isn't living up to that status, every drop, missed assignment and boneheaded play is magnified. Each passing week in which he's a non-factor — particularly the losses — is subject to heavy scrutiny.
It comes with the territory, but I feel bad for Agholor nonetheless, in large part because it seems mostly mental. He's not getting open with any great frequency either, and scouting reports warned he would be nothing more than a slot receiver in the NFL. Regardless, Agholor is often his own worst enemy and it's disheartening to watch.
This isn't a situation like the Eagles had in 2011 with Danny Watkins, who was a grown-ass adult by the time he was drafted. If ever the phrase "stealing money" was apt, this was it, because Watkins' heart was never really in playing football professionally, at least not in the same way it was fighting fires. He didn't want to play, couldn't handle the criticism and arguably never should've put on the pads in the first place.
Nobody works harder than Agholor though. Whether it's lack of ability or focus or confidence, there's no question he's out there giving his all every game, every practice, after practice, even when he's at home. Agholor downplayed the story, but he bought his own personal JUGS machine and invites teammates over to his place to catch footballs. That's dedication.
Obviously, it hasn't translated to success on the field, but you can begin to understand why somebody might start feeling a little sorry for the guy after awhile. He's trying.
So much has gone wrong for Agholor since joining the Eagles, too. He had the high ankle sprain as a rookie, the alleged off-field incident at the strip club this summer, then finally lost his composure during a postgame interview when he cursed and seemingly shifted blame elsewhere after a loss to the Cowboys. That's not even accounting for all of the drops and miscues, of which there are now far too many to list.
The way this stuff is piling up, the combination of everything almost makes this feel as if it simply wasn't meant to be for Agholor here. At least, nobody knows how to fix it. Whether it's an issue of talent or he's simply cracking under the pressure, as one teammate suggested, there's no denying the Eagles have a problem.
Of course, you don't have to look back very far to find an example of an Eagles first-round pick who made good long after many people had given up on him. Brandon Graham overcame injuries, a lack of playing time and poor scheme fit to become a starter. Nowin his seventh season with the Eagles, he's having a career year.
The circumstances surrounding Graham are very different, as his career was derailed by a major injury. He never had the kind of opportunities Agholor is currently squandering. Graham didn't give up though, and knowing how much effort he puts forth, Agholor won't either, even if some of us already have.
I felt bad for Graham then, and I feel bad for Agholor now. Heck, I felt bad for Smith, too. The expectations are high for a first-round pick, and the criticisms often fair. In Agholor's case, it's impossible to say exactly what isn't clicking for him right now, but the negativity has reached a level that I can't go because I know he's busting his ass.
I don't have high hopes, and I don't have a dog in the hunt when it comes to the Eagles, but I'll be rooting for Agholor from this point forward. Clearly, if he could just hang on to the ball and line up correctly, he could at least contribute in the NFL, and I hope whatever Agholor's problem is, he figures it out.