He heard it. He heard all the criticisms, all the complaints.
“Never should have drafted him.”
He heard all of it, and Nelson Agholor admits now it got to him.
“I lost myself because I started to listening to the individual chatter,” he said after practice Saturday.
Agholor began his rookie year amid tremendous expectations and finished it amid tremendous disappointment.
After getting picked No. 20 overall, the USC product caught 23 passes for 283 yards and one touchdown, which ranked him seventh among rookie wideouts in receptions and eighth in yards.
Not that he uses it as an excuse, but Agholor was slowed by a high-ankle sprain he suffered against the Saints in mid-October that kept him out of three games and limited him in a couple others.
But the numbers are the numbers. And as the disappointing games piled up and the losses piled up, so did the criticism.
Was it fair? After the flurry of superstar rookie wideouts in 2014, expectations were definitely inflated (see story).
In 2014, five rookie wide outs caught 67 or more passes. Only 19 had previously in NFL history.
But that was an anomaly. Mike Quick, the greatest wide receiver in Eagles history, caught only 10 passes as a rookie.
Look at some Hall of Famers: Lynn Swann caught 11. Lance Alworth caught 10. Charlie Joiner caught seven. Don Maynard five. Some of the best to play the game have started off slowly, and there’s no rule that says Agholor can’t follow that path.
Agholor, who just turned 23, said the biggest mistake he made as a rookie was paying attention to the criticism and worrying about his individual performance instead of focusing on team goals.
“It’s something that you have to realize,” he said. “That’s how I entered the season as a rookie ... My individual play may not have been great, but I was still trying to help us win football games, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
It’s very difficult to not get caught up in stats when you’re an NFL receiver. There’s so much at stake. So much riding on your performance.
Some guys can do it. DeSean Jackson loved talking numbers. Jeremy Maclin rarely did. Jordan Matthews won’t.
Agholor admits now he got caught up in stats and that his numbers – or lack of them – quickly became a distraction.
“I bought into the idea of me,” he said. “Whether it sounded selfish or not, I started worrying about what I was doing in terms of statistics. I needed to worry about helping us win football games.”
Agholor plays a position that’s constantly under intense scrutiny in a large market for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in eight years.
Factor in that he joined the Eagles soon after they cut ties with Jackson and Maclin, and you understand why there is so much pressure on him to perform.
When he didn’t perform last year – just two games with more than 35 yards, just one touchdown, just two receptions longer than 21 yards – he heard about it.
Fans compared him to Matthews, who had nearly 900 receiving yards as a rookie in 2014. Media compared him to all the superstar receivers from a year earlier. Skeptics compared him to Kenny Jackson, Freddie Mitchell, Reggie Brown, Mike Bellamy, Victor Bailey and other wide receivers the Eagles took with top-50 picks who never panned out.
So when it came time to prepare for 2016, Agholor vowed to stop paying attention. To ignore the noise.
“Honestly, I stopped listening to that,” he said. “Because I have an obligation to my teammates to help us win football games, and that’s my mindset and that’s what my mindset will be for the rest of my career.
“I will never be a me guy. And that’s what a me guy does. A me guy worries about people worrying about him. I’m not a me guy and I don’t want to be a me guy.
“I want to be a guy that betters himself for this team and this organization and that way I know I’ll progress to help us win football games.”
This is a huge year for Agholor. Matthews is solid, but every other receiver on the roster is a big, giant question mark.
Rueben Randle and Chris Givens are veteran free agents with some ability but who were also unwanted by their previous team. Josh Huff is a third-year pro who has yet to make an impact. The rest are undrafted rookies or street free agents.
So far in camp, Agholor has been steady if unspectacular. We won’t know exactly where he is until the games count.
“I am embracing being on this team and training and trying to progress to help us win football games,” he said. “Every day I come out here and get better and not just better for myself but better for my team.
“I promise you, my mind is strong and my heart is strong and all I want to do now is help my football team win football games.
“I think it’s a good time for me. It’s a good offense for me and a good time for me to buy in and help us grow as a family. To be somebody who believes in that so everybody else does too.”