Time’s Up: Future Cloudy For Impact-less Arcega-Whiteside
When the Eagles suffered a rash of injuries at wide receiver last season, the presumption was that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside would maintain a firm grasp on a starting job and vindicate his second-round billing.
Instead, the Stanford product was virtually a non-entity, tumbling further down the pass-catching pecking seemingly every week.
By late December, Arcega-Whiteside was being out-snapped by former practice squadders Greg Ward, Rob Davis, and Deontay Burnett. Over the final two weeks, he played just 29 snaps out of a possible 143.
Although Arcega-Whiteside struggled to adapt to the professional ranks as a rookie, he later revealed on 100 Yardas – a Spanish football podcast – that he labored through injuries throughout much of the season.
“I was dealing with a couple of injuries,” he 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.”
Following a turbulent first season, the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder returned to the NovaCare Complex in July healthy and exuding confidence. He appeared responsive to new wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead’s hands-on approach and looked like a markedly different player during team drills.
The big-bodied possession receiver was beginning to round into the player the Eagles believed they were getting last April, winning contested-catch situations, demonstrating body control in the red zone, and aggressively attacking the ball in traffic.
While Alshon Jeffery gradually worked his way back to full strength, it was expected that Arcega-Whiteside would start at the ‘X’ position and use his encouraging summer as a springboard toward a sophomore breakout.
However, in the season-opener, Arcega-Whiteside was hardly a factor, contributing just 28 snaps and zero offensive production. For perspective, fifth-round rookie John Hightower played 27 snaps in his professional debut and yielded four pass targets.
Last week, Arcega-Whiteside played 16 snaps against the Rams but failed to appear on the stat sheet despite being targeted twice. The two plays included an egregious drop and a sloppy, rounded route that resulted in a costly interception in the end zone.
When the Eagles entered the red zone, they utilized Jalen Reagor on a slant route that nearly ended the rookie’s afternoon prematurely. Arcega-Whiteside, lauded for his ability to high-point the football and for his red-zone upside, was puzzlingly nowhere to be found. His 6-foot-2 frame would have been useful in shielding a defensive back to make a tough catch in a condensed area of the field.
When news of Reagor’s UCL tear in his thumb surfaced, Doug Pederson offered a ringing endorsement for his second-year receiver. He vowed to keep him in the mix.
“I’ve always been confident in J.J.,” Pederson said. “What I like about J.J. is he’s a player that we can use in multiple positions. He knows outside. He knows inside. Smart guy, and someone that we’re going to have to lean on a little bit here in these next couple of games.”
With Jeffery and Reagor sidelined Sunday, the receiving corps consisted of DeSean Jackson, Ward, John Hightower, Burnett, and Arcega-Whiteside.
Though injuries continue to plague the wide receiver room once again, this year is different. Arcega-Whiteside was healthy, well-versed in the offense, and facing a porous secondary. Past excuses no longer had validity – it was time for Arcega-Whiteside to provide a return on the investment.
While the offense struggled to find its footing for much of the game against the Bengals, it received little support from the wide receivers aside from Ward.
Arcega-Whiteside once again failed to make an impact, as the game featured a heavy dose of Jackson, Ward, and Hightower. Even Burnett, elevated from the practice squad on Saturday, reeled in three receptions.
Even without Arcega-Whiteside on the field, the Eagles’ offense was eerily reminiscent of the stagnant, uninspired group that often labored up and down the field the past two seasons.
Now 19 games into his NFL career it’s unclear how Arcega-Whiteside fits into Doug Pederson’s offense. He has failed to elevate his play when the Eagles need a boost and is often on the sideline in game situations that would favor his skill set.
The lack of trust from the coaching staff and quarterback is evident in his usage.
The embattled pass-catcher also doesn’t contribute on special teams, so as Jeffery nears his return, it’s fair to wonder if Arcega-Whiteside will soon become a healthy scratch on game day.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network.
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