After a disappointing rookie campaign, there was a lot of hope that J.J Arcega-Whiteside would rebound in 2020. With just 169 receiving yards to his name in year one after the Eagles tried to cross-train him at every WR position before cutting him loose, fans were trying not to draw parallels to another highly drafted WR by the team – Nelson Agholor. But one year later, it might be those comparisons that give him a lifeline.
In his rookie year, Nelson Agholor amassed just 283 yards under Chip Kelly and a catch percentage of 52%. He was getting open constantly, but Sam Bradford would often turn to more reliable options such as Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews.
One season later, a new Head Coach rolled into town, a new quarterback was drafted, and Agholor was moved into his more natural position of being a slot receiver. Unfortunately, the problems continued. Drops were prominent and he even negated a huge touchdown pass to Zach Ertz against Seattle because he wasn’t lined up properly. Agholor met with the media after the game and said he has to ‘get out of his own head’.
This led to a decision from Doug Pederson that saw him sit out the next game and visit sports psychiatrist to help him overcome those problems.
“Honestly, when he came back into the building in April. And part of my messaging to him, specifically to Nelson, after the season was just get away.” Head Coach Doug Pederson told reporters prior to the 2017 season. “Get away, clear your mind, clear everything, and when he came back in the spring for OTAs, he was a changed football player. He was a changed person. His confidence level was higher.”
The 2017 season remains Agholor’s best to date. Not only did he win a Super Bowl, but received for 768 yards and 8 touchdowns. The confidence was flowing and there was a sense of weightlessness to his game after two tough years.
“I’m having a whole lot of fun right now.” Agholor said after the Cardinals game. “I work my butt off and I want to continue to work my butt off because I enjoy this. I really enjoy the game of football and enjoy the process of getting better. I want to go out there and have fun with my teammates.”
J.J Arcega-Whiteside hasn’t endured the same spiral that Agholor once did, but it’s easy to see that he is struggling. After last year’s bizarre plan to cross-train him held a team in dire need of wideout help back massively, he reportedly picked up a nagging groin injury.
In 2020, with Alshon Jeffery missing over half the season, there was a huge opportunity for the natural heir to the Throne to step up and prove that he was worth the investment. Through 7 appearances, he has 45 yards to his name along with a fluky fumble recovery touchdown, and has only played in 18% of snaps.
What really didn’t help is that the Eagles found an almost-identically built receiver in Travis Fulgham lurking on the waiver wire. His strongest comparison (89.2%) according to mockdraftable was indeed JJAW. Fulgham was signed in late August and made his NFL debut in week 4, never looking back. In the space of 4 weeks, he’s put up 435 yards and 4 touchdowns, leading the NFL in receiving. It took him one game to do more damage than JJAW did in his entire rookie season.
With Alshon Jeffery now back in the fold after nearly a year-long recovery from an injury and also conforming to the jump-ball archetype, it’s likely going to leave JJAW in the cold. What happens next in his troubled career is anyone’s guess, but Pederson has been here before.
The issues Agholor faced are totally different to that of JJAW, but there are certainly comparisons. Both are in their sophomore year and have a ton of external pressure building on them. Both may well feel/felt that they are/were on borrowed time, and both fell short of expectations in their opening two seasons.
J.J Arcega-Whiteside might not be in his own head. He might not need to see a sports psychologist. If that’s the case, even time away from the spotlight to work closer with WR coach Aaron Moorehead, who has done a wonderful job this offseason, could be perfect.
Pederson has long been lauded for his ’emotional intelligence’ and the way he was able to help Agholor find confidence was a perfect example of that. If the Eagles have any hope of saving JJAW’s potential, Pederson might need to dig back into that bag once again.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire