In the Eagles' 18-12 victory over the Falcons on Thursday night, Nelson Agholor caught eight passes. He carried the football once for 16 yards. He completed a pass for 15 yards, on the now quasi-immortal Philly Philly. (If you're seeking total immortality, Nelson, make sure your coach calls that play in the Super Bowl, on fourth down.)
He lined up as an outside wide receiver. He lined up as a slot receiver. He was everywhere and indispensable, and if you know anything about Nelson Agholor's career with the Eagles, you know how ridiculous such an assertion once would have been.
The reasons to believe that Agholor, whom the Eagles selected in the first round of the 2015 draft out of USC, was a bust and could do nothing to change the fact that he was a bust were cited often over his first two NFL seasons. Six feet in height, he is not especially tall for a wide receiver, and he entered the league at less than 190 pounds, spindly, with legs as thin as a frog's. Maybe he just didn't possess the physical traits necessary to succeed in the NFL.
He had been drafted by Chip Kelly, and if he couldn't make an impact in Kelly's system – and as a rookie, he didn't, really – how much hope was there that he would in Doug Pederson's?
And of course, during the 2016 season, he went through that excruciating bout with the yips, when you could have handed him a baseball glove the size of a drink tray and underhanded him a softball, and the ball would have caromed off his elbow. It was so bad that Pederson kept him out of a game, just to try to get Agholor's mind right again.
So even after Agholor caught 62 passes for eight touchdowns last season as the Eagles' slot receiver, and even after he had a game-high eight receptions in Super Bowl LII, and even after that Falcons victory, it was still a little strange to see him be-bopping to his locker early Friday morning, practically whistling while he worked, as reporters and cameras crowded him.
"Don't worry, I'll give you guys what you need," he said just before heading to the shower.
Good, someone said. We need to speak to the guy who threw the best pass of the night.
"I like that compliment," he said.
The greater compliment is the one that Pederson has paid him, by expanding Agholor's role. Out of the depths of that late-season benching in 2016, Agholor has established a measure of trust among himself, Pederson, and quarterbacks Nick Foles and Carson Wentz that places him among the most important and versatile players in the Eagles offense.
"I have been really impressed with Nelson and his work ethic and his drive and his motivation to really excel, not only at this level but also with his craft, being a skilled receiver," Pederson said. "It was evident [Thursday] that our confidence in him, my confidence in him, is extremely high. We move inside and outside now and find unique ways to get him the football. He's very explosive with the ball in his hand. My hat's off to him, the way he's worked the last couple of seasons to get himself in this position."
Foles' first six completions Thursday night, for example, were all to Agholor. None was for more than 10 yards, but among the Eagles' wide receivers, whom else could Foles rely on? Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins were injured. Mike Wallace is a veteran, but he is new to the team, and Foles not only did not complete a pass to him Thursday, but he targeted him just three times. Agholor had to get open, and Agholor did.
The two bigger plays for which he was responsible, the Philly Philly and his 16-yard end-around, were familiar iterations of sequences from the postseason, though one was more familiar than the other. Anyone who watched Super Bowl LII recognized that the Patriots had run their version of Philly Philly in that game, only to have Tom Brady drop a perfect pass from wideout Danny Amendola. But the end-around was reminiscent of a different, less-memorable play: a 10-yard shovel pass to Agholor early in the fourth quarter against the Falcons in the divisional round, a gain that set up Jake Elliott's final field goal in the Eagles' 15-10 victory.
"I like that a lot," Agholor said. "I like getting tosses and handoffs. I played running back in high school, and that's where I had my most fun and creativity."
As the crowd around his locker broke up, Agholor grabbed a hairbrush, ran it over his head, and stuffed it back in a small black bag. He wore black pants and a white dress shirt with a black lightning bolt running down the front along the placket, giving his ensemble a vaguely superheroic aspect. Even now, did he ever pause to think about how far he had come in his career?
"No, man," he said, "I don't look at the past besides film to learn from. I don't worry about where I've been. I always felt like I'm a talented wide receiver, and I've got a great coaching staff, and I'm playing with a talented group. I've just got to do my job."