Putting perspective on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s rookie season with the Eagles

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There is no way to sugarcoat it: Second-round pick J.J Arcega-Whiteside had a rough first season with the Philadelphia Eagles. Whenever thinking of JJ, most people think of his disappointing stats and this play:

The 57th overall selection in the 2019 draft out of Stanford was known for one thing – Physicality. He became renowned for abusing people at the catch point, making defenders in college look silly, using all of his 6’3″ and basketball background to out-position the man trying to cover him.

J.J was drafted to be a project, no matter how many times people will say “you can’t draft a project in the second round”. It was well known that he was very raw in terms of beating press and would have to refine his routes at the NFL level, alongside playing with angles against off-coverage and becoming a more well-rounded receiver. This was evident quickly. He was initially the 5th WR on the depth chart for the team’s first game against the Redskins. He saw 5 offensive snaps, 4 of which came on running plays.

He needed a good coach. The hope was that he could be used as a redzone threat while developing.

Playing hurt and playbook issues

Recently, Spanish sports outlet 100yardas interviewed the former Stanford wideout. As he was talking about the 2019 season, he said that after injuries occurred early in the season, he didn’t know which position he was playing going into games. The combination of going from a college program to understanding an NFL playbook, and having to learn multiple positions on top of new gameplan adjustments every week was understandably a big jump on its own.

He also expressed playing through a lot of pain, having episodes during the season where he had to be helped to and from the bathroom. Howie Roseman expressed during an interview that his wideout did have some thigh injuries that he was battling through.

With all the talking out the way, let’s take a closer look at his season from a film perspective:

A rough start

Heading into week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons, JJAW was not supposed to play a lot. Like in week 1, he was supposed to be WR5 behind Alshon, DJax, Agholor, and Hollins. With Goedert and Ertz in the lineup as well, chances of seeing substantial snaps were slim.

However, in pregame, Alshon, Jackson, and Goedert were pulled due to injury setbacks. Both Hollins and Arcega-Whiteside had to come off the bench. It’s evident they didn’t get a lot of practice in with the first team prior:

Overall, the game was not pretty. Going up against pro-bowler Desmond Trufant in his first game, the lack of technique on routes were evident along with a few flashes of that raw potential he possesses.

A week later, the Eagles were playing Detroit Lions. Aside from his drop late in the game, which of course had to be caught, he did a pretty decent job against Darius Slay, leaning into his routes and using his body to create separation over the middle. He had 2 targets and caught one for 10 yards.

Back after a break

From week 4 to 11, the rook didn’t see much playing time. The most snaps in that period came against the Bears, where he was on the field for 14 plays, 6 of which were passes. He didn’t see a target in this period.

He “returned” against the Patriots in week 11, playing 12 passing snaps, and did a really respectable job considering he was shadowed by Stephon Gilmore for most of the day. He had an important 29-yard reception to move the chains on the final drive before Nelson Agholor dropped a ball to tie the game:

The Seattle game in week 12 was very up and down. He saw a season-high 4 targets, of which he caught 2. The biggest problem with this game was the fact that the targets that ended up incomplete came from BAD rookie mistakes; drifting to the sideline on a sit route, and seeking upfield on a slant where he even beat press off the line.

There were high-points though. He had some nice routes on slants, shedding away the hands of the defender well, some good breaks inside. Held on well to a catch down the field after taking a lick from the safety, and did show some progress on curl routes.

The first in Florida

J.J had his first and only touchdown in week 13 against the Miami Dolphins. It came on a crossing route, where he beat his guy similarly to when he beat Darius Slay in week 3: leaning into the defender before breaking inside, creating a step. Despite being open, he had to help Carson out on a scramble to present himself open and catch a TD. The rest of the game was solid, despite only playing 15 passing snaps.

The final 3: signs of what’s ahead

Following the Miami game, the Eagles obviously faced a stretch of four divisional games that were crucial to a playoff spot. Of those four games, Arcega-Whiteside played frequently in three of them.

Week 14 against Giants was a great game for him and arguably his best of the season. He displayed an ability to consistently get open and present opportunities for Carson to get him the ball. He caught both targets, including a great catch on a lob ball despite a holding.

The week after against Washington was hard to really draw any conclusions from. JJAW wasn’t targeted a lot, but this game saw an incredible amount of first-read passes from Wentz, as well as RPOs. There were a few snaps with good technique, and a few he will want back, including not attacking the football in the endzone of a well-run post route, which ultimately gave the CB an opportunity to play the catch point.

Week 16 against Dallas was another really decent game. He made two consecutive first-down catches on the first drive, of which the first was a fine concentration catch over the middle on a not-so-great route, elevating for the ball, and the second a good diving effort with Wentz out of the pocket. More opportunities to throw endzone 1 on 1s, but Wentz did not look his way.

Ending season with optimism – and pressure

In the last two games of the season, the young wideout barely played, which is considerably weird considering he just was coming off 2 of his best games of the season. Considering the immediate talks of injuries by Howie in the end-of-season press conference, as well his own recent comments, it’s reasonable to believe he was indeed struggling with injuries.

From a statistical standpoint, Arcega-Whiteside did his best work late in the season as well. From week 11 to 16, he had 92 % of his yards (169), his only TD, and Wentz had a passer rating of 128.7 when targeting JJ (led team).

Overall, J.J struggled to adapt to the NFL in an offense that demanded him to learn every WR position of the offense in no time, and be the starter, lining up across the likes of Byron Jones, Darius Slay, Desmond Trufant, and Stephon Gilmore. There is no hiding that. As a player who dominated in college at high contested catches, he saw very few of those opportunities in the redzone, despite it being his obvious contribution point going into the season.

He progressed. The film shows that. His WR coach was fired. The team put a lot of talent aroud him, including speed which they didn’t have in 2019. He doesn’t have to be the #1 guy anymore.

All things point in a favorable direction of JJ taking a big step forward in 2020. And with the emphasis being put on getting WRs around Carson, evident by drafting 3 WRs in the 2020 draft?

– He would be wise to do so.