JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s development could make or break the Philadelphia Eagles’ strategy of building a young corp of offensive playmakers around Carson Wentz.
In a recent one-on-one interview conducted on Facebook of all places by Insider Dave Spadaro, Howie Roseman gave some interesting insights into his, and by extension, the Philadelphia Eagles‘ mindset after the initial wave of free agency has died down.
For example, the Eagles probably won’t do any more big-time deals with the few high-profile players remaining on the market, instead prioritizing low-risk, short-term deals like the one-handed out to verified slot god Nickell Robey-Coleman (more on that here). The Eagles also intend to further fortify their depth at both offensive line and running back; a pair of deceptive needs the team has yet to address so far this offseason.
But the one position the Eagles are apparently much higher on than the general public is their receiving corps – much to the chagrin of the team’s fans.
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You see, Roseman’s plan, at least from what I gather from his comments at the combine, in the media, and in conversation with Spadaro is to build a young, dynamic receivers group of first contract players who can grow alongside Carson Wentz moving forward.
As is the case with the signing of NRC, the Birds would in-theory be open to adding an over-30 receiver who can contribute in 2020, if such a player even exists on the market, but instead of committing big money to the likes of Robby Anderson, Emmanuel Sanders, or even Breshad Perriman, the Eagles would much rather use one, or even two of their eight draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft on young pass-catchers who can grow with the team.
That strategy hasn’t been particularly effective for the Eagles since Roseman returned to power in 2016, as only two of the receivers they’ve drafted remain with the team in 2020 – and one, Shelton Gibson, is in his second tenure with the team – at least it’s a strategy.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, you are officially on the clock.
Now a lot has been written about JJAW since being drafted 57th overall out of Stanford last spring, from hopeful post-draft profiles about his basketball pedigree and ability to play wide receiver like a power forward in the red zone, to his underperforming rookie campaign when compared to players selected after him like Terry McLaurin and DK Metcalf. He is without a doubt a polarizing player, if not one many fans have outright written off as a certified bust.
But here’s the thing about Arcega-Whiteside: there just isn’t a big enough sample size to tell.
Despite playing 486 offensive snaps as a rookie, or roughly 42 percent of the Eagles’ total offensive snaps, JJAW was only targeted 22 times or once every 22 snaps. On those plays, Arcega-Whiteside caught 10 balls for 169 yards and a touchdown. A 45 percent catch rate is not good, and neither is only recording 16 yards after the catch without a single broken tackle, but on the season, Arcega-Whiteside only dropped one ball and converted seven first downs.
In 2019, JJAW finished third among wide receivers in yards per target at 7.7 and third among all pass-catchers in yards per catch at 16.9; an almost identical market to his 16.8 YPC mark as a junior at Stanford.
As crazy as it sounds, Arcega-Whiteside is exactly the player Roseman hoped he would be when he selected him 57th overall; a big-bodied possession receiver capable of competing for 50-50 balls on the outside and moving the chains on crucial third and fourth downs.
There’s no doubt about it, JJAW was drafted to be an Alshon Jeffery killer, and it’s safe to say everyone at the NovaCare Center would sleep a whole lot better if he flashed enough potential in 2019 to safely waive the disgruntled outside option adieu with a post-July 1st designation, but I find it rather telling that he’s still on the team, at least for now.
If 2019 is of any indication, the Philadelphia Eagles have a templet for each wide receiver position. They want a big-bodied outside possession receiver who can fight cornerbacks for a well-placed 50-50 ball, a smaller outside option with enough speed to take the top off of an opposing defense, and a reliable option in the slot who can make plays in space. If JJ Arcega-Whiteside is able to fill that X-receiver role moving forward then yeah, Howie Roseman will look like a genius for building a young corp of receivers to pair with Carson Wentz moving forward, but if not, the team will have to go back to the drawing board and find another big-bodied wide receiver with one less premium draft pick.