Top pick Agholor still seeking breakout game for Eagles

Nelson Agholor went up against the best, and although the best prevailed, the rookie Eagles wide receiver came away convinced that he could compete against a cornerback as talented as Darrelle Revis.

"I learned that he's a man just like myself," Agholor said this week. "Obviously, he prepared for the game and I prepared and we went after it. He did a great job covering me and I tried to compete for four quarters and I think at the end of the day I held my own in terms of competition."

The stat sheet said otherwise. Agholor played 93 percent of the snaps on offense, but he was targeted only four times and finished with zero catches in the 24-17 win over the Jets. Only one of Sam Bradford's passes was remotely catchable, though. Agholor was open, but the throw was low and he couldn't make a grab he would later say he wish he had made.

But he lost Revis on the "dig" route. In fact, the Jets cornerback slipped when Agholor made his break. Maybe Revis hit a wet spot. Maybe his injured hamstring gave out. But on film it looked as if the youngster got the better of the veteran - at least on that route.

"At the end of the game he looked at me and said, 'Keep working, you're going to be fine,' " Agholor said of Revis. "I was happy about that. . . . That's what you want at the end of the day. This is a league where you want the respect of your peers and the guys you play against."

Agholor would be the first to say that preparation isn't enough. It hasn't translated to the field yet. He has only four catches for 36 yards through three games. But the Eagles are asking a lot of the rookie because he's probably the best option they have on the outside and maybe the lone receiver who has the skills to be a consistent downfield threat.

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Only slot receiver Jordan Matthews (84 percent) is playing more skill-position snaps than Agholor (83 percent) on offense. It's not as if the outside receivers behind him are making the case for more playing time. Josh Huff (33 percent) has four catches for 39 yards in two games, Riley Cooper (52) has three for 25 and Miles Austin (33) has two for 22.

There's a chicken-or-egg argument regarding the Eagles' lack of production with receivers other than Matthews (22 catches for 231 yards) and the deficiency in deep passes. Has it been Bradford or has it been receivers not getting separation on the outside?

Bradford has never been an NFL quarterback who takes a lot of chances beyond 20 yards. He said Wednesday that there haven't been a lot of plays called with deep routes or where the primary receiver was running deep. Only seven of Bradford's 117 attempts have traveled beyond 20 yards and none have been caught.

Chip Kelly said Monday that there have been times when receivers haven't gotten separation downfield. But he also has said that defenses - in particular, the Falcons and Cowboys in the first two weeks - have typically had at least one safety deep. But there still should be opportunities to find space.

"You have to be honest with yourself when you watch the film," Agholor said. "I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Oh, I'm open every time.' No, I've got to continue to work hard, create separation, have a great focus when the ball comes my way no matter where the ball is."

Agholor had a half-step on Revis on the Eagles' first passing play. He ran a "go" route, but Bradford went to Cooper over the middle instead and was nearly intercepted. Three quarters later, however, on the same route, Bradford went to Agholor when he was even with Revis, but he overshot him by five yards.

"Nelson has done a nice job when his opportunities have come up," Kelly said. "We just haven't had a lot of opportunities to get the ball out to him."

Historically speaking, rookie receivers have struggled to make an impact in their first seasons, even first-round draft picks like Agholor. Last season was an anomaly. Five rookie receivers, including Matthews, had more than 850 yards through the air.

Two offseasons ago, just before the Eagles released DeSean Jackson, Kelly said that a point of emphasis would be finding receivers who could beat man-to-man defense. Matthews has those skills in the middle of the field, but he isn't getting matched up against a team's best corner like Agholor.

"I think it's tough, but I like Nelson's mind-set, I like his attitude, I like the way he comes to work," Matthews said. "But it's early. It's three games and we want to play 20. By the middle of the season last year, the game started to slow down for me."

Matthews' start last season was relatively tame - he caught three passes for 57 yards in the first two games - but the Eagles didn't need him to make an immediate impact because they had Jeremy Maclin on the outside. But by Week 3 he caught two touchdowns and by Weeks 9-10 he had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games.

"Obviously, everybody wants to impact the game with the ball in your hands," Agholor said. "But how else do you impact the game? How else is your presence felt? Is a guy like Darrelle Revis frustrated because you're running 24-7? Is he having to play honest because you're out there?

"Those are the types of things I worry about."

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane