Examining Nelson Agholor's Dreadful Rookie Season in Philadelphia

The Eagles' first-round rookie receiver has posted some of the worst efficiency numbers in the NFL. How bad has it been?

One of my favorite aspects of heading home to visit family in the Philadelphia area is indulging myself in the local sports talk radio scene. It is particularly comical after an Eagles loss when the world is burning and the callers’ hot takes are as obnoxious as ever.

Following Philadelphia's loss to Washington this past weekend, which eliminated them from playoff contention, I heard the calls for head coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis to go back to coaching a high school team and the sheer loathing of DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso, and Byron Maxwell.

But lost among the disdain for those coaches and players is the disappointing rookie season of Nelson Agholor.

Granted, I may have missed some of the fury directed toward Agholor, but I believe he’s been mostly an afterthought in this debacle of a season for the Eagles.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for an Eagles team in the midst of a disappointing season, but following lofty offseason expectations, the 20th overall pick in the draft has come up woefully short.

A Replacement for Jeremy Maclin

After Jeremy Maclin signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent this offseason, the Eagles responded by taking Agholor, from the University of Southern California, in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Almost immediately, the presumptions that Agholor could replace Maclin in the offense began. 

In the year prior, Maclin had his best year as an Eagles receiver with 85 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. Per our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Maclin's 111.21 Reception NEP ranked him as the ninth most productive wideout last season among receivers with more than 50 receptions.

NEP measures how many points a player adds to his team's expected scoring total; for more on NEP, check out our glossary.

Agholor clearly had some big shoes to fill, and thus far, he has been a letdown.

In 12 games this year, Agholor has recorded only 21 receptions on 41 targets for 260 yards and 1 touchdown. Agholor has yet to exceed 3 catches or top 64 yards in a single game. He ranks fifth on the Eagles in targets and seventh on the team in receptions. 

Agholor owns a similar stat line to that of teammate Riley Cooper. Cooper has caught 21 passes on 40 targets for 327 yards and 2 touchdowns. 

Of the 104 receivers with at least 20 receptions on the year, Agholor ranks 101st in Reception NEP (19.86). Only Andrew Hawkins, Javontee Herndon, Taylor Gabriel, and Eddie Royal have posted worse numbers. Cooper’s 31.95 Reception NEP ranks him 84th.

Maclin, on the other hand, ranks 23rd (80.34) in Reception NEP this year.

Even among players with similar volume, Agholor is near the bottom in efficiency. Among 67 receivers with between 30 and 80 targets, Agholor's Reception NEP per target (0.48) ranks 56th.

It’s not as though Agholor hasn’t been involved in the Eagles offense. He’s played the second most snaps at receiver and has the second highest snap percentage on the season, behind only Jordan Matthews. This is despite Agholor missing three games in the middle of the season with an ankle injury.

Overall, the entire Eagles offense has been a disappointment, with the passing offense ranking 28th per our schedule-adjusted metrics.

Matthews, in somewhat of a sophomore slump, has seen his Reception NEP per target drop to 0.65 from 0.77 last year, meaning Agholor's struggles likely have something to do with the Eagles' putrid offense.

Stacking Up the First-Round Rookie Receivers

There was some chatter of Agholor becoming the Offensive Rookie of the Year before the season, particularly after a strong preseason opener against the Colts.

Instead of being in the rookie of the year conversation, Agholor has found himself more synonymous with plays like dropping a wide-open touchdown against Washington in Week 16.

Agholor was one of six receivers drafted in the first round this year. Following a 2014 rookie receiving class, which included Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Kelvin Benjamin, expectations were high for the 2015 group.

But injuries have largely derailed those first-round receivers. The Bears shut down Kevin White after he sustained a stress fracture in his shin, which required surgery. DeVante Parker has battled foot injuries throughout the season and has been active for 14 games but has played sparingly for the Dolphins. Breshad Perriman has missed the entire Ravens' season with a knee injury, and Colts’ rookie Phillip Dorsett has played in only 10 games, missing time with an ankle issue.

Here’s a look at how the first-round rookie receivers have fared this season, ranked by Reception NEP:

Receiver Receptions Targets Yards TDs Reception NEP Games Played
Amari Cooper 70 125 1,050 6 87.65     15
DeVante Parker 21 44 388 2 38.58     14
Nelson Agholor 21 41 260 1 19.86     12
Phillip Dorsett 14 30 197 1 15.99     10

Cooper has far and away had the best season of first-round rookie receivers, piling up 70 receptions for 1,050 yards and 6 touchdowns. His 87.65 Reception NEP ranks 18th in the league, sandwiched between Emmanuel Sanders (93.11 Reception NEP) and Sammy Watkins (87.28).

If we look at the entire rookie receiver class, here's the top five ranked by Reception NEP.

Receiver Receptions Targets Yards TDs Reception NEP Games Played
Amari Cooper 70 125 1,050 6 87.65     15
Tyler Lockett 49 65 628 6 65.78     15
Stefon Diggs 51 82 712 4 61.16     12
Dorial Green-Beckham 30 62 528 3 51.04     15
DeVante Parker 21 44 388 2 38.58     14

If we were to show the entire list, Agholor would come in ninth, behind J.J. Nelson (30.83 Reception NEP) and ahead of Dorsett.

Not only has Agholor been a disappointment compared to receivers around the league, but he’s also performed worse than wide receivers drafted rounds later.

Moving Forward

It’s clearly been a frustrating rookie season for Agholor, and I’m certainly not attempting to label him as a bust after just one season. Depending upon your views of Chip Kelly, Agholor’s prospects may have improved with the news of  Kelly’s firing Tuesday.

With a new coaching staff set to take the reins in Philadelphia -- and perhaps a new quarterback -- Agholor might start to show the potential in his second season that some saw in him coming out of college.

Or he may just serve as a reminder for Eagles fans of the failings of "General Manager Chip Kelly," which would make for fabulous sports talk radio fodder.