This offseason has been a transformative one for the Eagles wide receiver room. Nelson Agholor was released and three speedy wideouts were added through the draft, along with a trade for Marquise Goodwin. The need for speed was certainly quenched, but where does this leave JJ Arcega-Whiteside?
The 57th overall selection one year ago endured a tumultuous rookie campaign. Built like a clone of Alshon Jeffery and bringing a near-identical skillset to the table out of Stanford, 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. This, partnered with injuries we later learned about in an interview he agreed to with 100yardas, resulted in a year deemed disappointing by many, where he tallied 169 yards and just one touchdown in a year where the opportunity was limitless.
It was a struggle for JJAW, who saw a nice uptick in production between weeks 11-16, where he recorded 92% of his total yardage, and helped Wentz attain a passer rating of 128.7 when throwing the ball his way. Progress was absolutely made the more snaps he played, but the problem is, those snaps were so limited early on amidst an overload of information.
Fast forward six months and there’s a new WR coach in town along with a plethora of new pass-catching talent. Many have wondered what this means for the jump-ball specialist, but it can only mean good things.
The bigger picture
The Eagles typically structure their offense on this fundamental:
X receiver: Possession
Y receiver: twitchy, can separate at all 3 levels, and features on gadget plays
Z receiver: Speed/deep-threat
Now that hasn’t exactly gone to plan so far. Pederson has been given plenty of new toys, but they’ve all broken down within a few hours of playing, leaving a band of broken soldiers for Wentz to carry to glory. This time around, that should change.
There’s a good chance that the Eagles use the ‘X’ role to inject even more speed into the offense since they have so much of it, but down in the red zone, where Wentz has thrown 72 TDs and 2 INTs in his career, that speed won’t matter as much as someone who can box out defenders and snag a ball out of the air.
What also bodes well for JJAW is that Alshon Jeffery’s injury will likely keep him sidelined for a huge chunk of 2020. This, along with the fact that his standing within the locker room has oft been challenge after ‘sourcegate’ and a ridiculous cap hit, give the young receiver a perfect chance to rip the baton from Jeffery’s hands and become the team’s primary option at the X spot. If JJAW can build on his progress made last year and become a reliable pair of hands on the outside, then there is still plenty to be optimistic about when it comes to his role within a new-look offense.
The Eagles added so many rapid receivers, they may as well be featured in the next Sonic The Hedgehog game. Had they only added 1-2, there would still be a sizable amount of pressure on his shoulders, but the likelihood is that a remolded offensive coordinator committee will want to include as much speed as possible, reducing JJAW’s role and keeping him away from what would otherwise have been a season filled with nothing but pressure from outside the locker room.
Instead, JJAW will be able to develop under Aaron Moorehead quietly and grow into the offense, which brings me to my next point.
Jack of one trade
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. That shouldn’t be the case in 2020.
There will be so much competition for both Y/Z snaps that it makes little sense for Arcega-Whiteside to be featured at those spots. Instead, he should be afforded a window to master the spot he thrived in at Stanford, averaging 16.8 yards per reception on 63 catches during his final season.
If all goes to plan, by the end of 2020, JJAW should be in a position to hold down the ‘X’ fort in 2021 without the presence of Alshon Jeffery. An offseason that forces him into that spot, and only that spot was probably what was needed for a million reasons, but none moreso than his own comfort and confidence, which is everything to a wide receiver.
Don’t write off JJ Arcega-Whiteside just yet…
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports