Philadelphia Eagles: Should JJ Arcega-Whiteside transition to tight end?

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Could a position change save JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s career with the Philadelphia Eagles?

After landing their new featured running back with the 53rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles turned their attention to addressing the wide receiver spot four picks later.

In theory, the idea tracked. Alshon Jeffery was rapidly ruining his welcome in the City of Brotherly Love two years removed from being the ‘missing piece’ to a championship roster, and the team wanted to build a receiver corps with long-term viability that could continue to develop on the same timeline as Carson Wentz.

Fast forward two years into the future, and the Philadelphia Eagles have done just that, only it wasn’t said second-round selectee who earned the honor.

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Through the first seven games of the 2020 NFL season, Travis Fulgham leads all receivers in yards, touchdowns, and receptions-per-game on this particular iteration of the Eagles. While this is certainly impressive, it becomes even more so when you consider Fulgham didn’t make his until a Week 4 contest against the San Francisco 49ers.

If things continue on this current trajectory, Fulgham is currently on pace for 1,071 yards – which would make him the first 1,000 yard Eagles wide receiver since Jeremy Maclin(!) back in 2014.

And as for JJ Arcega-Whiteside, the player the Eagles valued over DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, Diontae Johnson, and Fulgham? Well, his sophomore NFL season hasn’t gone quite as planned.

After greatly underwhelming in 2019 to the tune of 10 catches for 169 yards on 486 offensive snaps, JJAW came into 2020 with a lot to prove. Spoiler alert: That hasn’t quite happened through the first seven games of the season. Despite having a perceived glutton of opportunities to shine in an offense without Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, or Jalen Reagor, Arcega-Whiteside only has one game with multiple targets this season versus two without a target whatsoever.

That… is not sustainable long-term.

While some fans – most fans – have already started calling for JJAW’s release, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles doing so at the moment. For all of his flaws, Arcega-Whiteside still at least tries when he’s on the field and doesn’t record more penalties than catches like his predecessor Mack Hollins. Heck, one could even make the argument that JJAW’s touchdown in Week 6 – a recovered fumble off a massive Miles Sanders run – was the pivotal moment that turned the season around and led the Birds to their current spot atop the NFC East.

So, what are the Eagles to do? Clearly, expecting any sort of consistent offensive production out of Whiteside is a fool’s errand, but it’s not like he’s a complete lost cause worthy of immediate release. I mean, could you even imagine how embarrassing it would be to watch the Stanford product have a bounce-back season on another team a la his fellow Pac-12 standout Nelson Agholor?

Well, I have an outside the box idea that may extend the JJAW experiment a bit further down the line that just might be crazy enough to work: Move him to tight end.

Now I know what you are probably thinking, “Man, that is crazy”. But is it? I mean, the Eagles are literally doing it right now with Arcega-Whiteside’s draft classmate Hakeem Butler.

Like JJAW, Butler came into the NFL with great size, basketball pedigree, and exceptional body control. He was a consensus top-100 player, and the guys over at PFF gushed about his potential as an outside receiver. And yet, not one season later, Butler was waived by the Cardinals after spending the entirety of his rookie season on IR, landed on the Panthers’ practice squad, and only earned a spot on the Eagles’ roster after agreeing to play tight end.

Butler made his offensive NFL debut in Week 7 of the 2020 season, where he failed to fight for a pivotal fourth-down touchdown ball in the fourth quarter.

In Arcega-Whiteside, the Eagles already have a player with a year and a half in their scheme, who just so happens to be one of the better blockers in the league at his position.

But wait, it gets better. According to Mockdraftables, the ball carrier Arcega-Whiteside compares most favorably to athletically is none other than Houston Texans tight end Jordan Akins, with two of his top-five comps being tight ends. Granted, neither Akins or his other primary tight end comp, Chris Herndon, is having a particularly impressive season. Still, both have more yards, targets, snaps, and starts for the Texans and Jets respectably than JJAW has for the Eagles.

If JJAW can put on 20 pounds without losing too much of his explosiveness, he’d look virtually identical to Jordan Reid, Jonnu Smith, or even Philly’s favorite do-it-all offensive weapon Trey Burton.

Though Burton came to Philadelphia with far less pedigree than JJAW and a more varied skillset due to his do-it-all role at Florida, his usage on the offensive side of the ball could be an ideal templet from which to build up the former second-round pick’s career. Like Burton, JJAW would be on the smaller side of the tight end spectrum, but his ability to move around formations to fish for a mismatch becomes all the more intriguing when facing off predominantly against safeties or even linebackers versus outside cornerbacks.

With both Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz set to hit free agency in 2022, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to build up a contingency plan, Logan Thomas-style, on the off chance it actually works out.

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In the modern-day NFL, position names are pretty arbitrary. There are running backs like Christian McCaffrey, who lead their team in passing yards, wide receivers who line up exclusively in the slot, and whatever you want to call Taysom Hill in New Orleans. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the best teams are the ones that most often put their players in the best position to succeed, something the Philadelphia Eagles have struggled to comprehend over the past few years. With that in mind, if calling JJ Arcega-Whiteside a tight end would alleviate some of the pressure put on his shoulders and force the coaching staff to use him in a more advantageous way, who am I to argue? And hey, if it doesn’t work, at least the Eagles have Travis Fulgham.