The Eagles lost Jeremy Maclin in March, leaving a major hole at wide receiver. On Thursday night, they tried filling it in the draft with Southern California's Nelson Agholor - a player who is compared to Maclin. He becomes the first wide receiver the Eagles selected in the first round since Maclin in 2009.
The Eagles tabbed Agholor with the No. 20 overall pick after they could not move up to acquire Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
"Real versatile guy, real smart guy, really understands the game," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "Can line up anywhere."
Kelly showed significant interest in Agholor throughout the pre-draft process. That included a visit to the NovaCare Complex and a private workout in Tampa, Fla., where the Nigerian native was raised.
The Eagles left impressed with Agholor, who at 6-foot and 198 pounds has identical measurements to Maclin. But Kelly noted differences between the two. Maclin excelled as an outside receiver, whereas Kelly said they could use Agholor inside and outside. Agholor has "good linear speed," Kelly said, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at the combine.
"He's a great fit for what we're doing," Kelly said.
Agholor said he "had a bit of a sense" that the Eagles would select him after workouts. He asked questions during the visit to the NovaCare Complex about scheme and coverage, leaving Kelly with the belief that he's a "student of the game." That excited the coach.
"He's in the Jordan Matthews category in terms of approach to the game," Kelly said. "I think the great thing about Nelson is he has a growth mind-set, not a fixed mind-set."
The team has selected a wide receiver in the first, second, and third rounds in the last two years. Agholor, who turns 22 in May, joins Matthews and Josh Huff as up-and-coming players in the receiving corps. They join veterans Riley Cooper and Miles Austin in a unit that has been revamped since Kelly arrived.
"I like the guys we have now," Kelly said. "We feel we wanted to get another guy in that room, and we were excited to get Nelson to add to that group."
In a draft with depth at wide receiver, the Eagles could have waited for one in a later round. They considered that approach, but Kelly said Agholor was the top player on their board and they thought the value was too significant to bypass. He said they sweated through picks 15 to 19, worrying that Agholor would be selected. When three or four teams called the Eagles with offers, Kelly did not want to move down.
"I think I have abilities . . . to get open, blocking," Agholor said. "I have a great opportunity to continue to grow daily. I don't want to be a player that just pans out today. I think I have a lot of opportunities to grow as a player.
Agholor had a standout junior season for the Trojans, totaling 104 catches for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games. He is also a standout returner, with a USC record four punt-return touchdowns during his three-year career.
Oregon offered Agholor a scholarship out of college, so Kelly was familiar with him. He also saw Agholor up close catch six passes for 126 yards and one touchdown in 2012. That left an impression on Kelly, who saw him "getting better and better" during his time at USC. Kelly now gets to coach him instead of against him.
"I was following him with my eyes when he was running by me," Kelly said. "Obviously well aware of him. I think everybody in the country was well aware of him. Had 104 catches this past season, was one of the best receivers in college football."
Kelly said the Eagles signed quarterback Tim Tebow because G.J. Kinne will be used as a multipurpose player on offense and special teams, so the team needed a fourth quarterback. Kelly thought Tebow "was the best guy available."