Can Nelson Agholor play up to or even beyond his contract in 2022? If someone watched the tape and looked at stats from last year and were asked who the Patriots’ highest-paid wideout was, they would probably suggest Jakobi Meyers or Kendrick Bourne. But, at two years, 22 million dollars, Nelson Agholor is the highest paid wideout on the team, and his stat line last year of 37 receptions, 473 yards, and three TD did not measure up to it at all. So this begs the question: what should the team do with him, and can he turn it around?
Can The Patriots Trade Or Release Agholor?
The obvious answer, at first, seems to be to let Nelson Agholor go. With such a large contract and the precarious cap situation the Patriots are in, why not clear up space? However, that’s where the complications of the cap structure come in. Nelson’s cap hit for 2022 is $14.6 million, but letting him go will only clear up 4.6 million and leave 10 million dollars of dead cap. Certainly, Agholor has had some successful seasons in the NFL and has latent potential, so seeing what the team can do with him is the best tactic. With the contract up at the end of the year, that’s when a proper decision can be made independent of the cap.
How Did Nelson Agholor Fall Short In 2021?
In all possible metrics, including yards (473 from 896), touchdowns (three from eight), and yards per reception (12.8 from 18.7), Nelson Agholor fell well short of his numbers as a Raider in 2020 that attracted New England to him. He’s certainly showed flashes of brilliance in Las Vegas and Philadelphia, but also some weaknesses. Examining merely two plays in the 2021-2022 season can explain why Nelson’s season fell short of expectations.
In week six of the season against Dallas, the Patriots had forced a topsy-turvy game into overtime. On the first play of overtime, Agholor cut down the middle in a near-perfect route. Unfortunately, Mac Jones placed a perfect pass right into his hands, in a place nobody else could catch it, and the pass went right through his hands, and New England ended up losing the game. Drops have been one of the biggest problems for Agholor in his career and last season was no different.
The next play was during the 2022 wild card game at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo. The Bills had just taken a touchdown lead, and New England was marching down to answer right back. The Patriots are at the Bills’ 34-yard line, and Agholor has beaten his man with his quickness. However, he fails to coordinate with a well-placed pass from Mac Jones and overruns it. He fails to detect Micah Hyde speeding horizontally, resulting in an interception that essentially had already sealed the fate of a game where Josh Allen’s offense wasn’t going to be stopped.
Those two plays were somewhat a microcosm of the season. While Agholor’s quickness and stellar route running put him in significant positions to make catches, and ultimately he did make some nice ones, he often, by drop or miscommunication, failed to get to targets regardless of the coverage system. As evidence, his 37 catches came from 64 targets, a conversion rate of only 57.8%. In addition, while his 12.8 yards per reception was second on the team among receivers with 15 or more catches, it came down to only 7.39 yards/target.
Where Does Nelson Agholor Still Provide Potential?
Nelson Agholor still showed a lot of promise last season and highlighted some of the traits that have made his career up till now quite successful. With a 4.39 second 40-yard time, Nelson is one of the quickest wideouts in the league. In addition, his tape, both in and out of New England, highlighted his on-the-field quickness, vertically and horizontally, and his ability to easily cut and change direction.
Those traits have made him an exceptional route runner, and there were several connections between him and Mac within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage when Nelson Agholor was the first man open. With some changes to the offensive line, Mac may need to release the ball quickly at times, which could help him greatly.
A significant strength of Nelson Agholor’s is his ability to catch deep passes downfield. In his 2020 season caught 15 passes of over 20 yards and five passes of over 40 yards. While there was a significant dropoff in this respect in 2021, part of it is because New England’s pass game didn’t emphasize deep passing last year.
With the work Mac Jones has done with throwing coach Tom House and the ability for both Mac and Nelson to gain extra familiarity with the offense with an entire preseason and training camp coming up, their deep connections could improve quite a bit this way year. Of course, for this to happen, Agholor will need to have surer hands and a better awareness of the ball and the defense than he did at times last year, but his best seasons have shown his ability to do this exceptionally well.
The gulf between the best and worst versions of Nelson Agholor is vast, and where 2022’s Agholor lies in that spectrum could be a giant x-factor in the Patriots’ offense and play a significant role in what New England does with him at the end of the season. This being his second year in the offense and the improvement of Mac Jones this offseason could set him up for a great season and enhance the deep passing game in Foxborough.
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