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June 14, 2020

Eagles new player (or current player with new role) series: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside edition

Eagles NFL
082219JJArcegaWhiteside Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports


During the offseason, we're taking a look at a handful of players who are either new to the Philadelphia Eagles, or are already with the team but we perhaps don't know a lot about them just yet.

Today we'll look at J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who will be expected to improve significantly in 2020.

Previous "Eagles new player series" breakdowns

Matt Pryor | Genard Avery | Jatavis Brown
Andre Dillard | T.J. Edwards | Marquise Goodwin
Darius Slay | Avonte Maddox | Jalen Mills

In the 2019 NFL Draft, Arcega-Whiteside was the sixth wide receiver selected, landing in the second round at pick No. 57. In his rookie season, despite ample opportunity to play as a result of numerous injuries to other Eagles wideouts, Arcega-Whiteside finished 25th among rookie receivers with 10 catches, 21st with 169 yards, and 14 rookie receivers had more touchdown catches. He also dropped what should have been a game-winning touchdown against the Detroit Lions Week 3.

In the Eagles' wildcard round loss to the Seahawks, DK Metcalf, a player drafted after Arcega-Whiteside, had 160 receiving yards and a TD, while Arcega-Whiteside only played 12 snaps, fewer than three practice squad receivers the Eagles added to the active roster during the season in Greg Ward, Robert Davis, and Deontay Burnett.

In short, yeah, uh, his rookie season did not go well. In a recent Spanish interview with "100 yardas" (h/t BGN), Arcega-Whiteside noted that he battled injuries throughout the season, and didn't know which position he would be playing from week to week.

Looking forward to 2020, Arcega-Whiteside will have every opportunity to win a starting job, and the guess here is that with a slew of speed receivers now on the roster, he will be able to focus on the "X" position that has been occupied by Alshon Jeffery in Doug Pederson's offense for the last three seasons.

The following video is every Arcega-Whiteside target of the 2019 season, including the preseason:

Positive notes

• To begin, he did show flashes of talent, making numerous impressive catches:

  1. The preseason touchdown catch after a good corner route against the Ravens.
  2. A garbage-time catch deep down the sideline against the Seahawks in which he jumped for ball, absorbed a hit, and was able to get two feet in.
  3. A very nice body control catch near the sidelines against the Giants in which he had to locate the ball at an awkward angle directly over his head.
  4. A leaping grab of a pass purposely thrown a bit behind him, that had some heat on it, on the first play against the Cowboys.

If you want to hang your hopes on Arcega-Whiteside becoming a good receiver in the NFL, that's where I would start.

• He did a nice job staying alive as a receiver for Carson Wentz whenever Wentz attempted to extend plays by scrambling out of the pocket. Far too often in 2018 and 2019 receivers like Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery would run their route, and that was that. They did not remain aware of Wentz's ability to keep plays alive, and make themselves available for him. Arcega-Whiteside made several catches after he had already run his route, but continued to try to work back toward Wentz and give him a place to throw.

• He's obviously not a burner, but he showed decent run after catch ability in the preseason, though it's probably noteworthy that getting yards after the catch against guys now playing for the Edmonton Eskimos isn't exactly the same as doing it against NFL starters.

• Not to make any of you reminisce over Chip Kelly's love for Riley Cooper, but Arcega-Whiteside was a good blocker. On one Miles Sanders TD run, Arcega-Whiteside pancaked Josh Norman, which actually got flagged because of Norman's acting, and the TD was called back, but it was a good block and a good example of his willingness to contribute in the run game.

Negative notes

• Winning on contested catches was Arcega-Whiteside's calling card in college. Look at all these 50-50 balls he won in his time at Stanford.

In his rookie year with the Eagles we saw none of that. If you watch the video of his rookie season targets above, note how many contested catch opportunities he had, and how few plays he made. His contested catch wins were almost non-existent, which is puzzling.

I think the biggest difference was that in college he attacked the football in the air, while in his first year in the pros, he let the ball come to him. Perhaps as he gains more confidence, he'll be more aggressive? The challenge for new wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead will be to unlock that ability. The Eagles need him to be able to win contested catches, because if he can't, he's not going to make it in the NFL by getting yards of separation from opposing corners.

• You can see some examples of good routes run by Arcega-Whiteside in the target video, like the corner route against the Ravens, or the jerk route against Chidobe Awuzie of the Cowboys. But as Dan Orlovsky pointed out during the season, Arcega-Whiteside was often not where he was supposed to be on his routes, which led to some key incompletions, making Carson Wentz look bad: 

There was also the example against the Falcons in the target video in which Wentz was expecting Arcega-Whiteside to make himself available for a back shoulder throw, but instead he ran a go, nearly leading to a pick.

Again, the Eagles' coaching staff will need to get Arcega-Whiteside trained better on where he is expected to be. With more training camp reps with Wentz, and perhaps a focus on just one position, Arcega-Whiteside can maybe do less thinking and more playing. He's a smart kid, so there's reasonable hope that he can be better in that area in Year 2.

• You'd like to see more killer instinct. One troubling play was in Washington. It looked like zone coverage, but he was being covered by a linebacker, and not even a particularly good one in coverage, in Jon Bostic. Arcega-Whiteside has to obliterate that guy and score. Instead, Bostic cut him off, and Arcega-Whiteside simply stopped his route. At least try to run through him a draw a flag.

2020 outlook

With Alshon Jeffery's future with the team uncertain, the Eagles would love to see the light go on for Arcega-Whiteside and become a competent "X" receiver for them in 2020. That spot is there for the taking. 

While I do believe that Arcega-Whiteside's issues were mostly mental, a common occurrence for young receivers, he's still going to have find ways to win significantly more on contested catch opportunities than he did as a rookie while he continues to learn the subtleties of playing receiver in the NFL. 

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