Eagles’ faith in Arcega-Whiteside will shape the future of the WR position

There’s no denying that the Eagles wide receiver position is set for a shakeup this offseason. The need for speed that has only grown in each season since Pederson’s arrival is now at an all-time high and there is a strong chance the Eagles will want to start a clean slate in 2020.

If we take the injuries that plagued the position out of the equation, what we’re left with is a group of underperforming wideouts. There are many who question whether Alshon Jeffery and his guaranteed salary will be back in 2020, especially after all the noise and rumors surrounding him and the term ‘anonymous source’. Trust was placed on the shoulders of Nelson Agholor along with a $9.4M cap hit, likely ending his time in Philadelphia, and DeSean Jackson isn’t getting any younger, with his absence highlighting the need to find the long-term option for when the Eagles legend hangs ’em up.

The X-Factor in all of this, however, is JJ Arcega-Whiteside – a receiver who had a disappointing 2019 season of his own. The second-round pick out of Stanford hardly had a dazzling rookie season and it’s a genuine cause for concern.

Built like a clone of Alshon Jeffery and bringing a near-identical skillset to the table, JJAW was assumed to be the future WR1…until the Eagles guaranteed Alshon’s 2020 salary and tried to redshirt Arcega-Whiteside under the guise of getting him to learn the playbook from every WR position. It’s ironic that Mike Groh attributed a slow season by Nelson Agholor to the fact ‘he’s wearing several hats’ and then forced their prized rookie into the same boat. Even when the team was crying out for receiving help, he was largely a non-factor.

By season’s end, this is how Arcega-Whiteside fared among his rookie peers across the NFL.

PlayerRecTgtYdsTDsCtch%SnapYds/
A.J. Brown*4876927763.26461.43
Michael Thomas921211137976.08671.31
JuJu Smith-Schuster5879917773.47581.21
Deebo Samuel*5276700368.46901.02
Dante Pettis2745467560.04691.00
Devin Funchess3163473549.24930.96
Dorial Green-Beckham3267549447.85800.95
D.K. Metcalf*5288819659.18730.94
Mecole Hardman*2540508662.55750.88
Andy Isabella*913189169.22230.85
Courtland Sutton4284704450.08460.83
Tyler Boyd5481603166.77390.82
Average3559492459.05970.82
Anthony Miller3354423761.16140.69
Sterling Shepard65105683861.910060.68
Parris Campbell*1824127175.02220.57
Zay Jones2774316236.57970.40
James Washington1638217142.15370.40
D.J. Chark1432174043.84560.38
Devin Smith928115132.13120.37
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside1022169145.44890.35
Curtis Samuel1526115057.73470.33

Not great.

In an offense that struggled to find plays of 20 yards or more in the passing game, the reluctance to take a downfield shot to a player that has made his entire career of said plays was dumbfounding. He had only 9 deep balls thrown his way all season — averaging one per game.

What happens next at the position however, will be a surefire reflection of the Eagles’ confidence levels in JJ Arcega-Whiteside. We can take DeSean Jackson’s situation out of this equation for now, just because JJAW isn’t likely to play WR2 with there being such an emphasis on speed.

Situation #1

If the Eagles do indeed opt to part ways with Alshon Jeffery, they’ll be left with a dilemma. Is JJAW ready to be a WR1? It would at least be a sign of some faith in the former Stanford receiver and jump-ball specialist.

The top of the Draft is littered with starting Y/Z talent that would entice the Eagles. Starting WR1 talent out of the gate is a little rarer to find and while names lower down the pecking order like Denzel Mims will fit the mold, they’re developmental talents….which may not be an ideal fit for a team that has really struggled to develop young receiving talent. With that in mind, if Alshon does go (and no other starting wideout), it’s likely JJAW ends up your WR1 in 2020.

Situation #2

If the Eagles let Nelson Agholor walk but retain Alshon Jeffery, then it could be a sign that JJAW was drafted as part of a bigger plan all along. Arcega-Whiteside’s cross-training would suddenly make sense. We know that the Eagles have been toying with the idea of a ‘big slot’ receiver for quite some time now and JJAW would certainly fit that mold. Moving him inside allows the Eagles to focus resources on the WR1/2 spots in which they can develop talent behind proven vets, continuing the youth infusion.

Situation #3

If there is somehow a situation where both Nelly and Alshon are on the roster next year, or one where both depart but are replaced directly through the draft/free agency, then it’s a really bad sign. If it doesn’t become inherently clear in the early goings that JJAW is part of the plan, the coaching staff may already be holding their hands up, aware that his progress is a slower burning fire that would burn brightest a little deeper down the depth chart in a niche role such as a red-zone specialist, to begin with.

However, knowing he can now play both spots, it may allow the Eagles some room to breathe if they are still high on JJAW – giving him starting reins and flexing him between positions, taking advantage of mismatches and entire offseason to build a rapport with Wentz as a key playmaker.

Arcega-Whiteside’s rookie year was confusing to say the least. But what happens next will be a true reflection of how the Eagles view him. Is he destined to be a focal part of the offense or just another forgotten cog?

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