Why Patriots fans should temper expectations for Nelson Agholor

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Perry: The Patriots FA signing I'd temper expectations for originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Playing around with expectations, judging them, is a funny sort of exercise. Who's setting them? How are they defined? You have to start there.

The easiest way to do it: Follow the money. 

If we can agree that player expectations are tied to their contracts, then the one Patriots free-agent addition for whom expectations need to be tempered is receiver Nelson Agholor.

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According to Over The Cap, Agholor's new contract with the Patriots will pay him an average annual value ($11 million) that ranks him 22nd in the NFL among wideouts. He ranks just ahead of players like Cincinnati's Tyler Boyd ($10.75 million) as well as Miami's Will Fuller ($10.6 million) and DeVante Parker ($10.2 million). He ranks just behind Washington's Curtis Samuel ($11.5 million) and Corey Davis of the Jets ($12.5 million). 

Going off of cash hauled in for 2021 alone, Agholor ranks 25th among receivers. Is that the result of a perfect storm this offseason when the Patriots had oodles of money to spend, an obvious need at wideout, and a thirst to come away from the initial wave of free agency with a player they liked? Perhaps. 

But that perfect storm resulted in Agholor being paid like a low-end No. 1 option, and that's just not who he's been over the course of his career.

Agholor sniffed that range a year ago as the primary deep threat for the Raiders. He ranked 27th in yards (896), 58th in receptions (48) and 12th in touchdowns (8). He was 34th in yards after catch per reception (5.0) and 23rd in yards per route run (2.04). Among players with at least 30 targets, Agholor ranked 29th in terms of passer rating when targeted (113.7). Where he really shined was in terms of his efficiency down the field, as he averaged 18.7 yards per catch, which placed him second in the NFL.

Compared against the rest of his career, though, that looks like an outlier season. His 2017 campaign in Philly -- which featured Carson Wentz playing at an MVP level before suffering a season-ending injury -- was the only other in Agholor's six years in the league when he eclipsed 800 yards receiving (935), five touchdowns (8), 5.0 yards after catch per reception (5.2), 1.2 yards per route run (1.64) and a quarterback rating when targeted of over 100.0 (114.5).

According to Pro Football Focus, when looking at wideouts with at least 30 targets, Agholor graded out as the 47th best wideout in the league in 2020. He beat that in 2017 (34th), but came in at No. 105 in 2019, No. 72 in 2018, No. 112 in 2016 and No. 116 in 2015. 

Part of what has hurt Agholor's overall production (as well as his PFF grades) over the years has been a drop rate that has ranked in the bottom-20 among wideouts on three separate occasions. In 2020, he was seventh-worst in that category (15.8 percent), per PFF.

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Then there's quarterback situation in New England to consider, which isn't what it was in Philadelphia in 2017 or Vegas in 2020. Derek Carr submitted a top-10 quarterback performance last year for the Raiders with a completion percentage of 67.6 (9th), a yards-per-attempt figure of 7.9 (5th), a rating of 101.4 (10th) and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3-to-1 (27-to-9). Agholor likely won't be working with that level of quarterback play in 2021, which will make last season's performance difficult to live up to.

Is it within the realm of possibility that Agholor makes good on the expectations that come with his salary? Sure. He's a player with alignment versatility -- he's been a deep threat in Vegas and a slot option in Philly -- who might be the player best suited to fill the void left by Julian Edelman's retirement. That may lead to truckloads of targets sent his way. Big-time numbers may follow. 

Possibly.

But Agholor's history suggests he's not a low-end No. 1 option in an NFL passing game even though he's now being paid like one. 

Adjust expectations accordingly.