Film Room: Nelson Agholor’s Route Running

Film Room: Nelson Agholor’s Route Running

Before last years draft, there was a big discussion about whether Nelson Agholor could be an outside receiver in the NFL amongst a lot of draft analysts. I thought he could be based on what I had seen of him but others saw him as a slot receiver only. After the Eagles drafted him with the 20th pick, it was clear he was going to play on the outside and pretty much attempt to replace Maclin.

Agholor’s rookie season was essentially a failure. Watching his tape genuinely frustrates me because I hate the way Chip Kelly used him last year. He ran so many go routes and we made no effort to get him the ball in space and let him run with it.

I wanted to go back and watch his route running because I think that determines if he can be a successful outside receiver or not. I think we know by now, Agholor isn’t going to dominate cornerbacks at the catch point on the outside with great size and ball skills. If Agholor wants to be an outside receiver, he needs to create separation. He had problems with press coverage at college and I wanted to see if he improved against this.

I’ll post a few clips from games I watched and then summarise everything I saw at the end. Obviously I can’t post clips of every play, so I normally post an example of something that I see routinely. Let’s begin with the Miami game.

Something clearly stood out to me throughout this game that probably won’t surprise anyone – Agholor is much better against off coverage than he is against press coverage. Agholor lines up on the right side of the screen and although the ball doesn’t come his way, he clearly gets himself open. Agholor has extremely quick feet and it shows here, he gives a strong outside step and then quickly cuts back inside. If I’m being extra critical, I’d like him to move his head and shoulders to the outside when he plants his foot to really sell the single step to the outside.

Here’s another example of him winning against off coverage. I actually think there are quite a few weaknesses in this route but he still gets separation. I think he should sell the vertical route more and attempt to close the gap with the cornerback quicker. However, he’s blessed with extremely quick feet and once again it gets him open here. He moves his head and shoulders with his feet here which he didn’t do in the first clip and it certainly helps him get open.

If Chip wanted him to be a deep threat last year, he was probably pretty disappointed as there were too many go routes where he couldn’t create separation against off or press coverage. Agholor’s on the right side here again. He doesn’t do a good enough job selling the route inside at all and although he spins the cornerback around, he isn’t able to get past him deep. He didn’t close the gap quick enough and he made his move when the gap was too large. He certainly ran in breaking routes better than go routes against off coverage in this game.

Let’s watch him against cornerbacks in a press position now. This is an okay route. Agholor needs to be far more aggressive at the start of the route though against press. The cornerback is playing shadow technique here and not trying to jam Agholor so he needs to reduce the separation between the two of them before attempting to get by him. Really though, I just want to see more explosiveness. Is that weird? He just doesn’t look that explosive to me, I wonder if he’s focusing too much on his footwork or something because he looked pretty explosive in college.

Here’s one where he does succeed against a cornerback in a press position to an extent, sadly though Mark Sanchez was in at quarterback at this point so the throw is bad. Here you can see that quick-twitch ability that he has to change direction that gets him free, he uses moves his head and shoulders to the inside to really sell the inside break too which allows him to create a bit of separation.

I wanted to show this one Giants clip because I thought he looked more explosive this game, he’s on the right side of the formation. He looked more explosive at the end of the season actually (as you’ll see with the next couple of clips against the Redskins) which makes me wonder if he was just thinking about other things such as his footwork and timing during the season which slowed him down. There’s still faults with this route but you can see him start to gain separation as he accelerates which is good to see.

This is what Agholor should have been running all year. He’s so much better at these shorter routes than he is at deeper routes currently. Watching this makes me think he would be pretty effective in the slot actually. Watch how quick the 4 steps are before he cuts inside, his feet are so quick. I have no idea why we didn’t use him in the slot at all last year to at least try and get him the ball more.

This is another example of his quickness against the Redskins, he should have had a touchdown here but Bradford decided to completely overthrow him. Once again it’s that quick inside step that gets him free. If you watch carefully, the cornerback isn’t biting on the slant but Agholor sticks his left leg firmly in the ground like he is cutting across the middle and this totally kills the cornerback who bites hard. Right, I’ve shown some positive clips but I’m sadly going to end with some bad clips against the Cardinals.

Agholor got absolutely dominated by Patrick Peterson last year, he’s on the right side of the formation here. Now I get it, Peterson had a great year and is a fantastic cornerback and Agholor is just a rookie. However, Peterson does give you a chance, it’s not like he shuts down every receiver with ease. For the 20th pick in the draft, I would have expected Agholor to put up more of a fight than he did. In this clip you can see he doesn’t really fake inside hard enough and Peterson is able to get his hands on Agholor and slow him down. You’ll notice from all the clips I’ve posted, Agholor is really poor with his hands. When you’re facing press coverage as an outside receiver you need to attack that defender and be aggressive with him. He seems to ignore his hands when route running and believes he can beat the defender just by faking an inside step and speeding past him. You can’t beat top level cornerbacks on the outside on a consistent basis without using your hands effectively.

Here’s another one where Agholor can’t shake Peterson. There’s no real fake to the inside here, he’s attempting to speed past him but he doesn’t look explosive enough. It’s hard to see on the clip but it looks like Agholor manages to slap away Peterson’s initial jam but with right hand but he doesn’t follow that up with a move with his left hand to create separation from Peterson. After the initial slap, it would be good to see his left hand chop or rip Peterson’s hand away to prevent him having a hold of him. You’ll notice with a lot of these clips it doesn’t really look like Bradford looks at him, I don’t think he expects Agholor to win deep which against Peterson is no real surprise.

Apologies here for the Fraps sign being in the way slightly but it’s another example of a pretty poor route. His step to the outside is weak and Peterson doesn’t jump at all. I want to see more explosion when he cuts in too, he really needs to use his hands better to create separation as this is way too easy for Peterson to jam him here and cut off the timing of the route. He is sometimes slow to get out his breaks here and he has to get better at this.

Overall

I’m slightly underwhelmed by Agholor. He shows some good stuff, his breaks are very clean for the most part and he has really quick feet which he uses well at times. However, for the 20th pick in the draft he didn’t have a great year. I know he ran a quick 40 but he didn’t play to that speed. He doesn’t really look like a great deep threat and he did struggle on the outside against press coverage. These were concerns that many people had with him before he was drafted.

There’s a lot of things that Agholor needs to work on. At the moment he really doesn’t use his hands well at all against press coverage and his release off the line of scrimmage isn’t great. When you aren’t a big receiver on the outside you have to deceive the cornerback and sometimes Agholor would make a great fake inside but at other times he didn’t really sell the fake hard enough. I’m glad the Eagles have a new wide receiver coach and coaching staff as I hated the way Chip used him last season.

I think this Eagles coaching staff have their doubts about Agholor being an outside receiver and a great deep threat too. I think this because they have signed Rueben Randle who is a big body on the outside, they signed Chris Givens who gives them an outside deep threat and they have said that Jordan Matthews will see more outside looks. This makes me wonder if we’ll see more of Agholor in the slot next year.

Although that would be disappointing for a guy who was picked 20th overall, I do think Agholor could really dominate inside, especially on shorter routes. I’d like to see him run some curls and double moves too as he has such quick feet. I’m hoping that those analysts who said he would only ever be a slot receiver are wrong and I hope he bounces back next year on the outside and shows his potential. He does flash real talent at times so let’s just hope this coaching staff uses him better and gets him the ball in space whether he’s on the outside or in the slot.