Fantasy Impact: Nelson Agholor Signs with Patriots (2021 Fantasy Football)
If you were to rewind the tape back one year ago and said the Patriots will be signing Nelson Agholor to a two-year deal worth $26 million, people would’ve thought you were crazy. But that’s what happened late Monday afternoon, as the Patriots added another pass-catcher in free agency.
After being selected 20th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, expectations were sky-high for Agholor in Philadelphia. While there were flashes of potential, they were never able to get the most out of him. Many fans were led to believe that he was a “slot only” receiver considering that’s where he had the majority of his success.
Based on his usage under Doug Pederson, that made sense. In 2018 and 2019, Agholor averaged 0.85 fantasy points per target while playing on the perimeter (one of the lowest marks in the league), but we watched that number balloon to 1.62 fantasy points per target while in the slot. The 0.77-point difference was the fourth highest in football over that stretch. Was it Agholor? Or was it the offense? When you think about the Eagles the last couple years, the only pass-catchers to have any real success were those who played over the middle of the field.
DIFFERENT PLAYER IN LAS VEGAS
When Agholor signed in Las Vegas this time last year, no one expected him to do much, and rightfully so considering it was just a one-year, $1 million deal. Then, when the Raiders selected Henry Ruggs, Lynn Bowden, and Bryan Edwards in the top three rounds of the draft, he was all but left for dead.
When Tyrell Williams suffered a season-ending injury before the season even started, there was a sliver of opportunity for Agholor to get on the field, but he’d seen just 11 targets over the team’s first five games. But after Edwards was injured and Zay Jones continued to be inefficient, we saw Agholor flashing on his minimal targets. It led to more playing time and targets as the weeks went on, and despite seeing just 11 targets in those first five games, Agholor finished as the No. 23 fantasy wide receiver from Week 4 through Week 17, racking up 44 receptions for 822 yards and seven touchdowns over that stretch. His 10.9 yards per target on the season ranked sixth among wide receivers with more than 35 targets.
Did the production come in the slot? Nope. While he did rack up 163 yards and three touchdowns in the slot, his per target production was better on the outside, as he averaged 2.00 half-PPR points per target on the perimeter and 1.90 points per target in the slot. It wasn’t all perfect in Las Vegas, as Agholor did finish with the fourth-most drops (9) among wide receivers despite ranking 48th in targets, a reoccurring problem he had while with the Eagles.
ANOTHER NEW HOME
It’s never easy jumping from city to city, trying to adjust to a new offense and new quarterback, so the fact that Agholor is on his third team in three years isn’t great. The Patriots have spent a lot of money in free agency through the first half dozen hours, including a four-year, $50 million contract to tight end Jonnu Smith. With all these moves taking place, is it possible we see Julian Edelman released? He carries a $6.1 million cap hit this year and the Patriots would save nearly $3.5 million by releasing him.
It’s easy to see why the Patriots like Agholor, as he fits the mold of what they typically want. A receiver who can move all over the field, including the slot. He’s an upgrade over Mohamed Sanu, who they foolishly paid a second-round draft pick to acquire him from Atlanta back in 2019.
The issue in the Patriots offense is lack of opportunity. The Raiders threw the ball 550 times last year while the Patriots threw the ball just 436 times, the second-lowest number in the league. Despite their wide receivers accounting for a solid 60.3 percent target share, none of them exceeded 81 targets, 59 receptions, 729 yards, or two touchdowns. And keep in mind that was while the tight ends received a collective 34 targets all year. The addition of Jonnu Smith changes the target distribution numbers significantly. We can surely expect the number of pass attempts to go up a bit now that Cam Newton‘s had a full year in the offense, but let’s not pretend they’re going to become a pass-first team with Newton under center.
EARLY 2021 EXPECTATIONS
As of right now, the Patriots have a three-wide set with Agholor, Edelman, and N’Keal Harry while Jakobi Meyers contends for a starting spot (the Patriots also signed Kendrick Bourne to a three-year, $22.5 million deal after the Agholor signing). While Agholor flashed what he’s able to do last year, Cam Newton and Derek Carr are completely different quarterbacks. Even if we bump the overall pass attempts up to 480, we must lower the target share for the wide receivers given the arrival of Smith. But again, for the sake of high-end expectations, let’s say Agholor gets a 20 percent target share, which is a number that only 29 players received in 2020, he’d still wind up with just 96 targets. If Edelman is on the roster, he’s not hitting that 20 percent target share. This is probably more of a good football move than it is a good one for fantasy, as we’re now nearing the point where there are too many chefs in the kitchen, and not a clear alpha in a run-first offense. It’s likely going to be a roller coaster for fantasy purposes, so relying on Agholor as anything more than a WR4 would likely be a mistake.
Way-Too-Early 2021 Projection: 82 targets, 45 receptions, 612 yards, 4 touchdowns