'Wasn't Good Enough:' Arcega-Whiteside's Harsh Critique Of Rookie Season
When Eagles brass decided to select J.J. Arcega-Whiteside with the No. 57 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, it likely envisioned an early return on the investment. While the success of wideouts selected after Arcega-Whiteside has been well documented, it’s worth mentioning that DK Metcalf (64th) and Terry McLaurin (76th) instantly invigorated their respective passing attacks. Even the Giants’ Darius Slayton, considered a developmental fifth-round flier, came on throughout the second half of the season. Pursued for his high-point ability and red-zone potential, Arcega-Whiteside was thrust into the limelight earlier than anticipated after veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson suffered injuries in Week 2.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound pass-catcher saw his snap count rise from 5 in the season opener to 75 in a Week 2 prime-time matchup against the Falcons, and 55 more against the Lions. The results? Two catches, 14 yards – and an egregious drop on fourth-and-long that effectively extinguished a potential Week 3 comeback. Arcega-Whiteside took critical snaps for a depleted receiving corps that included Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Greg Ward, Deontay Burnett and Rob Davis, but the Stanford product was virtually invisible the rest of the way. Appearing in 16 games, Arcega-Whiteside accounted for nearly 42 percent of the offensive snaps. He managed just 10 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown. While the transition from college to the professional ranks is rarely an instant success, Arcega-Whiteside acknowledged that his rookie campaign was as uninspiring as the stats suggest. “It wasn’t good enough,” the second-year pro said in a Zoom call with reporters Thursday. “You turn on the TV, you could see it. But 2019 is in the past. I look back on it now, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, I’m a totally different player than I was then,’ and I kind of laugh about it, because I’m like, ‘I don’t even know who that was.’” While Arcega-Whiteside endured his share of rookie mishaps, he revealed on 100 Yardas – a Spanish football podcast – that he had labored through injuries throughout much of the season. “I was dealing with a couple of injuries,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “It’s football, it’s what you expect. It was definitely probably the first time that I had injuries that I had to play through for a long period of time. Usually in college or high school, I remember being out a week or two and just being healthy the rest of the season. So that was definitely a first for me.” It’s also fair to note that the only wide receiver that demonstrated any signs of progress under now-former wide receivers coach Carson Walch was Greg Ward, who was in his third year in the offense. Sure, health issues could have mainly contributed to Arcega-Whiteside’s dismal debut, but football and injuries often go hand-in-hand. The Pac-12 phenom who once cut his teeth on contested catches by attacking the catch-point suddenly offered little resistance to defensive backs and regularly seemed a step slower than every skill player on the field. He also appeared indecisive as a route runner. In Arcega-Whiteside’s own words: that wasn’t good enough. With Jeffery likely sidelined for some of the early slate of games as he works back from a LisFranc injury, the Eagles need Arcega-Whiteside to evolve into the player they drafted him to be – and fast. With Jeffery sidelined, the receiving corps is short on size, except for Arcega-Whiteside. Although the Stanford product has been featured predominantly at the ‘X’ position, ITB’s Geoff Mosher reported that Arcega-Whiteside had spent some time this training camp learning the slot position. The highly scrutinized receiver now enters his sophomore season healthy, rejuvenated and hopefully well-versed in the offense. With his rookie season in the rear-view mirror, Arcega-Whiteside has an opportunity for a clean slate under new receivers coach Aaron Moorehead.
But if the Eagles' new batch of rookies to separate themselves, the honeymoon grace period for Arcega-Whiteside could quickly reach its expiration. – Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast here: