NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Training Camp
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

How has Nelson Agholor become an Eagles’ fan favorite?

The third-year receiver has a lot to prove this season. Everyone, even the media, seems eager for him to do it.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Training Camp
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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So, we’re all on board with Nelson Agholor being an important part of the Eagles, then?

Is that it? We put the third-year receiver through the ringer for two full seasons because he could barely catch a cold without the threat of dropping it and suddenly in Year 3 he’s everyone’s favorite player?

This is still Philadelphia, right?

This is a city where we’d boo an old lady for taking too long to cross the street and suddenly, after a season in which his catch percentage on 69 targets was just 52.2 percent, we’re all on board with Agholor being a vital part of the Eagles’ offense?

And he might even start? What is happening at Eagles’ training camp?!?!

It might have to do with his change in attitude, and an understanding that this could be his last shot. While last summer, Agholor was involved in an off-the-field legal situation with a stripper, this summer, he’s getting press for being a fan favorite, smiling with people at training camp sessions and going out into the community to race little kids on the street.

If there’s such a thing as football karma, Agholor is trying to use it to turn his career around. The entire off-season, after two really bad years with the Eagles, people wanted to either trade him or outright cut. Suddenly, inexplicably, Agholor has become a fan favorite.

It wasn’t long ago, when the Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith at the start of free agency, when people around the organization thought Agholor’s days with the Birds were numbered. As a rookie he caught just 23 balls on 44 targets and in his second season, one in which he was supposed to develop into a viable deep threat for Carson Wentz, Agholor had just 36 catches, while he dropped to just over 10.1 yards per reception.

He caught less than two-and-a-half balls per game and has three touchdowns in his entire NFL career. And he might be a starter now.

The only thing that’s even kept Agholor on the roster is his contract. As a first-round pick he made $1.7 million as a rookie, but came with a cap hit of $8.5 million. When Pederson took over before his second year, Agholor was given every chance to become a breakout star, but after last year’s horrid performance, it seemed clear the Eagles needed a complete overhaul at receiver, outside of Jordan Matthews, who had success in the slot.

Agholor’s dead cap hit was still $6.8 million after last season, so it was more cost effective to keep him than to cut him. This season, he’s making $2.55 million with a dead cap hit of $4.68 million, so it will still be cheaper to keep him and hope he turns into a productive member of the offense than it will be to cut him now. We all knew what heading into this year. But a starter? Really?

Really. At least according to some experts.

The buzz started with the Eagles announcing Agholor as the fastest player in camp, speedier than newly-signed Smith who many pegged as his replacement at receiver. Then came Eagles legend and radio broadcaster Mike Quick, who told WIP late last week that Agholor is the most talented receiver on the roster.

“I’m a Nelson Agholor fan,” Quick told Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie on Friday’s 94WIP Midday Show.

“I don’t give up on Nelson Agholor because I watch him every day and I see how talented he is. And trust me when I tell you, there’s no wide receiver on this roster that has more talent than Nelson Agholor. There’s no wide receiver that runs better routes and, in this particular camp, has caught the ball any better than Nelson Agholor.”

That’s just gotta be homer talk, right? Quick is just putting that out there so everyone stops asking Agholor negative questions about his drops and starts asking him positive questions like, “do you think you’re the best receiver on the team?” and “do you think Mike Quick forgot that Alshon Jeffery is on the roster?”

Alas, the Agholor narrative has changed. He is getting a ton of support at both the team’s open practices and on social media. Click through to read some of the comments on this Instagram post. Fans want to love this guy.

He’s even getting love in the actual media.

Jimmy Kempski at the Philly Voice posted an article Saturday quoting former NFL executive and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah — once a scout for the Eagles — who said he thinks Agholor is going to be the starter at slot receiver this year. Ah ha! The genesis of the starter conversation. Via Kempski:

“Nelson Agholor has had a total rebirth,” he said. “He’s in the slot. He’s going to live in the slot. He’s going to be their slot receiver. I’ll be shocked if he’s not. I don’t know what that means for Jordan Matthews.

“Agholor is a lot more dynamic. Last year against the Seahawks he just turned Richard Sherman inside out, but he dropped the ball. Getting separation was not his issue last year. Just being able to finish, and he was doing a nice job, and it sounds like he’s really focused.”

Jeremiah talked about the mindset of being a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver and how that’s different when you have far less pressure being a No. 3 option. But that doesn’t account for the fact that by season’s end last year, Agholor wasn’t even the No. 4 option. For part of the season guys like recently-jettisoned Dorial Green-Beckham, as well as Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner were seeing as many snaps and getting more targets than Agholor. That wasn’t because of Agholor’s lack of football talent, it was because of a lack of confidence in holding onto the football, coupled with some really poor decisions that kept costing the team first downs.

It’s odd, then, that people assume he’s just going to start making better decisions and catching the football this season, all because he looks good in camp.

Kempski addressed Jeremiah’s question about Jordan Matthews by reiterating the long-standing thought that it makes sense to trade him, using Agholor’s strong preseason as another reason to deal the team’s most productive receiver over the last three years. The Eagles do have Jeffery, if he can stay healthy, and Smith, if he can bounce back from two bad seasons in San Francisco, but putting Agholor in a situation where the team will have to rely on him in big spots seems precisely what plagued him last year.

All that’s to say, Agholor may be saying and doing all the right things, but until he can show that he’s capable of doing the right things on a Sunday that matters, there’s no way the Eagles should be willing to trust him enough to think of him as a starter.

And yet, the coaching staff has said good things about his performance this offseason, the media seems to be taking a mostly “let’s let him prove it” stance this summer and the fans, by and large, seem excited to see what he can do on the field.

People are cheering Nelson Agholor. In Philly. This is real. But it could be fleeting.

The second he drops a ball in an actual game the boo birds will ring out, the postgame questions will be back to what went wrong. Guys drop passes all the time — Matthews had more drops than he did last year — but nobody has had to answer the questions as much as Agholor. And so, good camp or not, he still has to prove himself in preseason. He should get a ton of reps in the coming weeks, and if he’s getting time in the slot like he has in practice, he’ll have a ton of opportunities to prove he belongs.

If he does that, the fans will continue to cheer. If he does that.