Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
PHILADELPHIA - There really is a method to Chip Kelly's madness. Sometimes it just takes a while to figure it out.
Case in point: wide receiver Nelson Agholor, the Eagles' first-round pick, who is the answer to the riddle Kelly presented more than a year ago.
You have to go back to spring 2014 to see where the road to Agholor's arrival began. That's when Kelly decided to part ways with the supremely talented yet high-maintenance DeSean Jackson. The move was stunning. Jackson had career-best numbers (1,332 yards, nine touchdowns) in helping the Eagles to the playoffs in Kelly's first season and was only two years into a five-year, $51-million contract.
Kelly was so anxious to get rid of Jackson that he released him even though his other star receiver, Jeremy Maclin, was coming off reconstructive knee surgery.
Enter Agholor, who provides a partial answer to Jackson's departure and to Kelly's decision not to re-sign Maclin this past offseason. If Agholor is as good as he appears to be, the post-Jackson/Maclin era looks promising. Even if it took more than a year to understand what Kelly was up to.
Agholor understands. "I think Chip does things because he has a clear vision, and I respect that," he told me after a recent practice. "The fact that I'm a part of that vision is a blessing and I just want to do my part. It's always exciting to have an opportunity."
Agholor has everything Kelly looks for in a receiver: He's fast. He's tough. He's versatile. He's smart.
The 6-foot, 198-pounder was highly touted at USC, where he caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. While Amari Cooper and Kevin White dominated the pre-draft conversation about wideouts, Agholor also was highly regarded. After a sit-down with him, a coach at the scouting combine told me he'd never been more impressed with a prospect.
But it was Kelly who got him, with the 20th pick. Kelly's mind and Agholor's talent will be one highly productive combination, even if uncertainty persists about the Eagles' quarterback situation with Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez.
Watch Agholor in practice and you see his talent immediately. He has the indefinable "it" factor that separates great players from good ones. The burst off the line of scrimmage. The immaculate route-running. The gifted hands. And a toughness forged as a high school running back, receiver and defensive back in Tampa, Florida.
Agholor made an impact in his preseason debut. On his first catch, he leaped for Sanchez's nearly overthrown pass and ran for a 34-yard TD. He had three receptions for 57 yards and drew a 32-yard pass interference call.
"When Nelson gets the ball in his hands, he's real explosive," Kelly said. "So you're anticipating run after the catch with him. He did that a ton in college. He was also a great returner, so he's a dynamic player. That's why we drafted him so high."
OK, it's very early, and who knows how Agholor will transition to the NFL once the real games start? But this is a game that relies on projections, and this guy looks like he's as good as they get. His confidence can take him a long way in a league in which receivers are more of a focal point than ever before.
So yes, I think he'll turn out to be a very, very good player. Even if Agholor himself doesn't think in such broad-brush strokes.
"My No. 1 focus has to be progression," he said. "It's trying to make progress every day, and I feel like I've gotten better every day. It's consistent effort."
Agholor knows he has a unique opportunity with a coach who can unlock his potential in ways that more conventional tacticians can't.
"Chip likes to get his guys the ball," Agholor said. "So as a player, I just have to do my part, know my assignment and be in the right position. I don't know what my numbers will be. All I want to do is take advantage of the opportunity to play under a coaching staff like this."
Can't wait to see the results. Can't imagine they'll be anything less than superior.