Eagles select USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor

THERE WAS much final-hours suspense, but in the end, the great Marcus Mariota chase turned out the way many of us thought it would: Getting to Mariota, moving from the 20th overall draft pick to first or second, was too long a leap for the Eagles.

Instead of reuniting Chip Kelly with his Oregon quarterback, the Birds stayed put and took a player who had been linked to them during the draft process: USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor (6-foot, 198), whom NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock (and many others) have compared to Jeremy Maclin.

The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Eagles offered two first-rounders, a third, defensive end Fletcher Cox, corner Brandon Boykin, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and "more" to the Tennessee Titans for the second overall pick. That "more" supposedly included quarterback Sam Bradford.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly denied the NFL Network report. He said the Eagles first spoke to Tampa Bay and Tennessee Wednesday, then checked back yesterday. He said they offered no players, only draft picks, and that they quickly determined the price for trading up to Tampa's first pick or Tennessee's second selection would be too steep. (Of course, if you say you didn't offer players, you don't have to explain to those players why they were part of a proposed trade.)

"If I was them, I would have done exactly the same," Kelly said.

Tampa took Florida State QB Jameis Winston first overall, as expected, and shortly before 8:20 p.m., the Titans turned in Mariota's name to commissioner Roger Goodell, who promptly mispronounced it.

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A little more than an hour earlier, fans had chanted "Do the deal!" to Kelly at the team's Lincoln Financial Field draft party. In the end, the coach who had pledged not to "mortgage the future" to move all the way up in the draft did not.

"Not at all," Kelly said, when asked if there was ever a point when he thought he was close to moving into one of those spots. He said the team has begun discussions on a contract extension with Bradford, obtained from St. Louis in March for Nick Foles. Bradford, coming off two ACL tears, is scheduled to make $13 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract. Clearly, he is the Eagles' quarterback going forward.

It might take a while to figure out exactly what the Eagles actually offered for Mariota - remember when the same insiders who were trumpeting supposed offer details last night reported Kelly was going to coach the Browns? Unless you have the phones tapped, it's hard to know for certain what one team said to another.

Regardless, the Titans apparently felt just as strongly as the Eagles that Mariota was that rarest NFL commodity, the franchise QB. You don't trade that guy, for anything, if you're sure he's it.

Given that the Titans handed out leis to fans at their draft party, it's fair to wonder whether they ever had much interest in trading the pick. Mariota, who watched the draft from his Hawaiian homeland, told Tennessee reporters Kelly had wished him luck "wherever you go," just not against the Eagles.

"It was just a really steep price. It's like driving into a nice neighborhood and looking at a house and saying, 'That's really nice,' and they tell you the price and you turn around and drive away," Kelly said. "We didn't walk in the front door. We didn't take a look around.

"Part of our plan, as we've said all along, is that we're going to build this team. We still think there's a lot of value in this draft and in future drafts."

Kelly said the Mariota pursuit, which has dominated local speculation for months, "played out exactly how I thought it was going to happen."

Agholor, Kelly's first player chosen since he wrested draft control away from former general manager Howie Roseman in January, seemed like a pretty Kellyish pick. He played in the Pac 12 against Kelly at Oregon, and was recruited out of high school by Kelly, who knows his high school and college coaches. Kelly compared his attitude to that of Jordan Matthews, the second-round receiver from the 2014 draft who impressed with his relentless work ethic.

"He's a great fit for what we're doing," Kelly said. "He's an outstanding punt returner and an outstanding receiver."

Kelly said Agholor and Maclin are almost identical in size, but Maclin, who departed for Kansas City in free agency, is more of an outside wideout, and Agholor can play inside or outside.

"He's got excellent speed [4.42 40], outstanding hands. Catches the ball away from his body. Outstanding route-runner, real student of the game. We were really excited [he was available at 20]," Kelly said. "He's kind of what our model is - the best player available who fit our system."

Agholor was born in Nigeria, moved to the United States when he was 5, grew up in Florida.

"I had a bit of a sense. I told them how I wanted to end up in a situation with some truly special people, and I felt like that's what they have," Agholor said in a conference call with reporters at NovaCare. He was among the 30 players brought to NovaCare for predraft visits.

Like Maclin, Agholor seems to lack great physicality; he is said to have struggled against press coverage. He said last night he is still developing.

"I don't want to be a player who just panned out today. I think I have a lot of opportunities to grow and I'm looking forward to that," he said.

Agholor said his conversation with Kelly welcoming him last night "was one of the most genuine I've had in a long time," leading him to believe he was meant to be here.

"I know Sam Bradford. He's an amazing quarterback," Agholor said. He said he thinks USC's system is similar to what Kelly runs.

Kelly tapped Agholor with other intriguing possibilities still on the board. Unlike 2014, when the Birds said after the draft that they'd targeted six players at 22 and saw them all taken, leading to a trade back to 26 and outside linebacker Marcus Smith, Kelly said the team had several players in mind at 20 and didn't try to trade up for anyone after the Mariota effort ended. He said he had three or four offers to trade down, but no one offered enough.

Central Florida wideout Breshad Perriman and Arizona State and West Catholic wide receiver Jaelen Strong were among those still on the board when Kelly took Agholor; both had also visited the Birds. Perriman went 26th, to Baltimore; Strong did not go in the first round.

Byron Jones, the UConn cornerback the Eagles spent a lot of time with before the draft, went 27th overall to Dallas. Damarious Randall of Arizona State was the only safety selected in the first round. Randall, projected in some mocks as an Eagles' target because of their obvious need, went 30th to Green Bay.

The Eagles are scheduled to choose 52nd overall in the second round tonight, then 84th in the third round. The draft's final four rounds take place tomorrow.

 


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian