The Raiders’ signing of Nelson Agholor to a veterans minimum deal in March was a bit of an afterthought for a team that invested so heavily in receivers during the NFL draft.
But Agholor had his best game of the year in Sunday’s 45-20 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Allegiant Stadium in what has been a resurgent season for the 2015 first-round pick.
“Nelson has been such a huge pickup and such a great player for us,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “I’m sure there’s a few plays he wants back, but I told him I’m going to keep throwing it, so just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Agholor made an impact early. Carr’s first pass went for 28 yards down the middle to the former Southern California standout, and the drive culminated with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Agholor to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead.
He finished with five catches for 107 yards and the TD, his best statistical game as a Raider and just the fourth 100-yard receiving day of his career.
“We practice hard, and coach makes good calls to put me in position,” Agholor said. “My role is wherever they want to use me.”
Carr said getting Agholor more involved — a team-high-tying nine targets on a day when first-round pick Henry Ruggs got three — was more a function of taking what was available than a concerted effort in the game plan.
“The way we play football, it’s not about fantasy stats,” Carr said. “We’re not trying to get one guy the football. We call plays and do things with the intent of finding the best matchup and attacking it.”
It wasn’t all positive for Agholor, who dropped two balls, a flaw that tainted his stay in Philadelphia.
There was even a viral video of an Eagles fan who caught a baby tossed from a burning building saying he wanted to avoid an Agholor-like mishap and not secure the grab.
Those old warts hadn’t shown up with the Raiders. Agholor had caught 10 of 11 targets through five games and was the only qualifying receiver in the league with a perfect passer rating when targeted.
Along with the drops, Carr threw an interception when he tried to find Agholor over the middle in the fourth quarter only to have the ball tipped away.
Still, Carr and the Raiders have developed a trust for Agholor that started to form during offseason workouts at a Las Vegas Valley park.
The 27-year-old Agholor, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Florida, came to the Raiders seeking a fresh start.
He averaged a career-low 9.3 yards per catch in 2019, his fifth in Philadelphia, and missed five games. After posting two consecutive seasons of more than 700 receiving yards, Agholor caught 39 balls for 363 yards in 2019.
The Raiders expected him to provide depth, but injuries to Tyrell Williams and Bryan Edwards pressed him into extra duty.
“He can get deep,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s good after the catch, and he’s versatile. … Nelly is going to be a hard guy to get off the field.”