CINCINNATI — Nelson Agholor took a step forward on Sunday afternoon.
It was a baby step, but it was still a step.
The Eagles’ first-round pick from a year ago started in Sunday’s 32-14 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium six days after being a healthy scratch — call it a mental health day — against the Packers.
Two weeks ago, Agholor, 23, had an awful day in Seattle, after which he admitted that he was in his own head. It appeared the pressure of being in the NFL had become overwhelming.
Head coach Doug Pederson elected to sit Agholor in the Packers game, but he didn’t have much of a choice on Sunday with Jordan Matthews’ ankle injury.
“I felt good competing again, just getting the chance to lace it up and go out there felt great,” Agholor said. “I had fun doing it and now I just have to build on it.”
It wasn’t a great day for Agholor, but it wasn’t an awful one either. He tied a career-high with four catches that went for just 23 yards. He was the Eagles’ sixth-leading receiver on a day when the offense struggled mightily.
But he caught the football, didn’t have a drop and didn’t have any major mental blunders. Yes, the bar is low.
“I thought it was a great time to get out there, got to touch the ball a bit, caught some passes, caught some contested ones,” Agholor said. “And now it's just about finding a way to take the next step for myself. Watch the game with a critical eye and continue to grow as a football player.”
Since the Eagles drafted Agholor with the 20th overall pick in 2015, he’s been a colossal disappointment. During Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Bengals, Agholor quietly surpassed his receiving yards total from his rookie season. In 2016, he has 287 yards on 31 catches.
Perhaps that means there’s been improvement, but not really. The Eagles were counting on Agholor to become a viable option for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and that hasn’t happened. In fact, at times, Agholor has made a negative impact.
Undrafted rookie Paul Turner, in his second career game on Sunday, caught six passes for 80 yards, both surpassing career highs for Agholor, who has been a starter since he joined the Eagles.
“The most important thing for me is to focus on me right now,” Agholor said when asked if the Eagles are giving maximum effort. “And I want to give unmatched effort and have great focus in the classroom and let it translate to football games.”
Agholor said there wasn’t some grand announcement from Pederson telling him that he was going to be active for Sunday. More or less, that announcement was inferred thanks to Matthews' injury status and Agholor’s practice load during the week.
No, it wasn’t Pro Bowl stuff from Agholor on Sunday. Four catches for 23 yards isn’t going to ever be good enough. But he was at least able to take a baby step forward.
He wasn’t too nervous either.
“I was blessed, to be honest with you,” he said. “Put the shoulder pads on, the helmet on again. The lesson that I truly thought I learned from last week was something that I loved so much, I didn't have an opportunity to do. So now, I didn't care if I just ran go-routes every play and the ball didn't come my way. As long as I got to put my cleats on and play with my teammates and play the game that I've loved for so long, I was happy about it.”