The 2021 Patriots saw a lot of changes they hadn’t seen in quite some time. They had a rookie quarterback under the helm, virtually all new weapons on offense, and a slightly different attitude from coach Bill Belichick.
The offense quickly became the focus of much of any discussion, particularly due to the release of Cam Newton just days before the season began. And Belichick decided to go ahead with a rookie quarterback for the first time in 20 years.
With so much scrutiny on the offense’s success or lack thereof, some players were ridiculed more than others throughout the season. The one with the biggest target on his back for that scrutiny was receiver Nelson Agholor.
When Agholor was signed during the frenzy that was the 2021 free agency period, a majority of the media and fans were not thrilled;
“The Patriots once again overpaid for a weak receiver!”
“Belichick doesn’t want to spend money on real weapons for his quarterbacks!”
“It’s clear why Brady left!”
Other than the Boston media never being easy to please, the biggest complaint of the season before was the lack of talented receivers, especially ones that could be a downfield threat. That’s exactly why Agholor was brought in, especially after having his best season to date during his one-year stint with the Raiders.
Fast forward to the 2021 season, Agholor did not have the best year of his career. In the 15 games he played, he totaled 37 receptions for 473 yards and three touchdowns. Not nearly the same performance he had just one year prior.
But joining a new team and learning a historically difficult playbook shouldn’t be taken lightly. Former players have discussed the hardships they had when first joining New England, particularly that of learning the system.
His shortcomings were highly discussed this spring when the Dolphins traded receiver DeVante Parker to the Patriots, leaving many wondering if Agholor’s position on the team was in jeopardy.
After completing practice during OTAs in May, Agholor was asked about those speculations and his perspective on his first season with the organization;
“[Last season] went the way it was supposed to for me to grow. I can’t really look at it any other way. I needed to grow. I needed to adapt. I needed to be able to do what I wanted to do. I think everything happens for a reason. I’m not going to get upset about this or that because it’s in the past. What I do have in front of me is a really wonderful opportunity this year to be who I’m supposed to be and play the way I want to play.”
He also discussed how he was feeling working toward the 2022 season;
"I'm excited to have my best season with the Patriots and show why I'm here." – Nelson Agholor on his contract with #Patriots pic.twitter.com/lUzFyro97w — NBC Sports Boston's Patriots Coverage (@NBCSPatriots) May 10, 2022
Now coming into his second season with the Patriots, Agholor has appeared more confident and comfortable during training camp so far, even as the offense is learning a brand-new scheme.
When speaking to the media last week, Agholor said,
“I just think I got comfortable. I was happy with everything that happened last year in terms that it gave me the opportunity to grow and get better. I think it put me in a position this year to just play a little faster, play a little confident, ask the right questions, work hard with our strength coaches and just get better.”
His improved performance and attitude through training camp so far have been clear. Fans and media have noticed, but most importantly coaches have seen it as well.
Belichick remains confident with Agholor and reiterated that when asked what he’s seen from the receiver so far;
“Yeah, it’s a big jump, big jump for him. He was here all offseason and had a really good offseason, was productive. He had a really good spring of training. He’s come out here … consistently made plays obviously down the field, which is very important, but also in other areas, very few mental errors, very few mistakes. So he’s looked good..”
As the upcoming season is just around the corner, Agholor outshining other receivers at camp holds more weight. The addition of Parker certainly creates more competition amongst the receivers. But Agholor has already shown the improvement needed and displayed why he deserves a spot on the team.
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