J.J Arcega-Whiteside hasn’t exactly had the greatest of starts to his NFL career. His rookie year was dismal and his 2020 season highlight was making a key block on a Miles Sanders touchdown. It just so happens that Nick Sirianni craves that quality in his receivers.
At this point, most people have given up on JJAW – the Eagles’ second-round pick from 2019. He was effectively redshirted as a rookie in order to learn the playbook from every spot, while Alshon Jeffery’s confusingly guaranteed salary put a glass ceiling over his head. This, partnered with injuries we later learned about, resulted in a year where he tallied 169 yards and just one touchdown. In a season that craved receiving help, JJAW was nowhere to be found.
Going into year two, expectations were high. A new WR coach came onboard and it looked as though Alshon was on his way out, opening up a starting role. With Jeffery also sidelined for camp, the opportunity was somehow even greater than 2019. He ended the season with 4 receptions for 85 yards, with his most notable play being that hustling block on a Miles Sanders breakaway run.
Nick Sirianni likes hitting the block button
Is it time to raise hopes for a third time? Maybe. A new coaching staff brings new principles and while Doug Pederson at one stage loved receivers who had supreme blocking ability, Nick Sirianni really loves a blocking wideout.
Just ask Colts wideout Zach Pascal. The Colts wideout stands at 6’2, 214 lbs, while JJAW stands at 6’2, 225 lbs and has long been revered for his blocking ability. In 2020, he played in all 16 games and caught 44 passes for 629 yards and 5 touchdowns. Working next to T.Y Hilton and Michael Pittman presented Rivers with a great balance of receiving abilities – one the Eagles have tried and failed to implement every year since 2017.
Pascal is a free agent this offseason and it would hardly be surprising to see him brought in as the receiver that JJAW should’ve been. However, with salary cap issues still prevalent, maybe Sirianni would rather take a look at the talent he has in house first before asking Howie to pick up the phone.
The Colts wideout was once a special teams ace, an area where JJAW is yet to be tested. Perhaps under the guidance of new special teams coach Michael Clay, that may change as well.
It’s not just Pascal who thrived due to his physical nature. While Geremy Davis hardly had the most productive NFL career and rarely saw the field as a Charger, he was another bigger body at 6’3, 211 lbs, who found a home as a blocking wideout while Sirianni was a coach there. After being claimed off of the Giants’ practice squad, he spent the remainder of the 2016 season trying to fit in. He left a positive impression on the future Eagles Head Coach.
“Geremy was our blocking wide receiver last year. He’d come in and was so physical with guys. We like his effort, demeanor and his ability to catch the football with strong hands; he can make phenomenal catches that not everybody can you make.”
Sounds an awful lot like someone I know…
As a WR Coach for the Chiefs in 2012, Sirianni coached 6’4, 225 lbs, wideout Jonathan Baldwin to his best of just 3 NFL seasons. He amassed 325 yards and a single touchdown. While not the most refined of receivers, he did play a fairly big role in keeping space open downfield for a 1,509-yard season from Jamal Charles. The Chiefs were lifeless in 2012 and much of their offense came from the ground-game. Baldwin was targeted less than the Chiefs running back that season, but played in just 3% fewer offensive snaps. Why? His value exceeded pass-catching volume.
One last chance?
J.J Arcega-Whiteside may well have the odds stacked against him here and it’s much easier to try and move on with players like Travis Fulgham, his carbon copy, clearly showing more in one game as a pass-catcher than JJAW did all season. However, Sirianni has an odd affliction for blocking wideouts – more-so than Doug Pederson.
JJAW might never turn into the X-receiver many envisioned, but what he may finally have in 2021 is a role and a direction. A chance to contribute to the offense without the pressures of playing a hefty amount of snaps with minimal targets.If there was ever going to be a lifeline for Arcega-Whiteside, Sirianni’s arrival may be exactly that.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire