In the days leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft, it was heavily reported that Alabama WR Marquise Brown would almost certainly be the selection for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1st round if he was available to them. But after the completion of the first 2 rounds it was JJ Arcega-Whiteside that was slated to be the team’s newest receiving weapon for Carson Wentz. Howie Roseman and company selected the Stanford WR with the 57th overall pick, and if you ask me, coming away with Arcega-Whiteside late in the 2nd was much better value than getting Marquise Brown late in the 1st.
Before we get into him as a player and his projected role/impact, let’s first talk about his nickname. José Joaquín Arcega-Whiteside is his full name, and while it is a great name it is quite lengthy to constantly type out and recite. He had a few nicknames at Stanford; fans called him “Jaws” (which wouldn’t work here in Philly for obvious reasons), some teammates called him “Cuervo”, and other teammates called him “Arcegatron”. A recent poll on Bleeding Green Nation suggested a nickname of “Sega”, to which 34% of voters voted for. All of those are good choices in my opinion. But until one is officially decided on, I’ll just stick to his initials and call him “JJAW”.
You probably already know the type of player JJAW is by now. It’s been about 2 weeks since he was drafted and I’m sure most fans have done their research and read scouting reports on him. But just in case you haven’t, here’s an incredibly detailed one by Michael Kist of Bleeding Green Nation, followed by a great film breakdown by Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network:
Eagles Film Room: Grading JJ Arcega-Whiteside https://t.co/iL7kDFTk5w
— BleedingGreenNation (@BleedingGreen) May 2, 2019
I don’t need to remind you that JJAW’s biggest strength is his ability to win in contested catch or jump ball situations, to the point where 50/50 balls are more like 80/20 balls in his favor. JJAW was one of the most fun players to watch when I was going through all my pre-draft player evaluations. Seeing the way he uses leverage and body positioning to box out defenders and then times his jump perfectly to high point the ball is truly special to witness. There were times when Stanford would be in the red zone and everyone knew that the play was going to be a jump ball or fade to JJAW, but he’d still somehow come down with the catch in the end zone despite the defense’s best efforts, or at least draw a flag for holding or pass interference. That’s a big reason why I love him as a prospect, because this trait is so dominant already that it’s hard to see it not translating to the next level.
But he’s not just a jump ball guy either. JJAW has an exceptional release when getting into his route stem which helps sets up the rest of his route because he knows how to attack leverages and immediately stack cornerbacks on deep routes. There’s nuance to his game that shows he’s a smart receiver who knows how to get open and creating throwing windows, even if he doesn’t have great agility or explosion to get separation at the top of his route.
When talking about WR options in the draft for the Eagles, the widespread notion was that they wanted to focus on adding more speed to their offense, hence why the Marquise Brown rumors carried so much weight. Many fans were even upset that they passed up on Ole Miss WR DK Metcalf, whom many evaluators had as their WR1. Metcalf had fallen to the Eagles at 57th overall before being scooped up by the Seattle Seahawks several picks later at 64th overall. Personally, I even had South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel mocked to the Eagles in the 2nd round to be an eventual replacement for Nelson Agholor (more on that later), but he was selected 36th overall by the San Francisco 49ers. So, in that respect, the JJAW selection was a bit surprising since he’s not known to have that type of elite speed that Brown and Metcalf do. However, in no way is JJAW a slow mover either. It was reported that he ran a 4.49 at Stanford’s pro day, which is better than many expected him to run. So he definitely has good enough speed to create some separation for himself when going deep.
We won’t know until a few years from now whether it was ultimately the right decision for the Eagles to choose JJAW over Metcalf or even Hakeem Butler who was another highly ranked WR prospect that was available late in the 2nd. Time will tell. But the fact remains that they selected a WR as one of their early round picks, and the impact that JJAW could potentially have on this team is significant.
Remember that the Eagles’ WR corps was pretty banged up early in the 2018 season. Alshon Jeffrey missed the first 3 games of the season and Mike Wallace missed practically the whole season after breaking his leg in Week 2. Oh, and not to mention that 2nd year WR Mack Hollins, who was projected by many to have a bigger role going into that season, didn’t play a single game in 2018 due to a groin injury he suffered in training camp/pre-season. Depth at the position was bad enough to the point where they had to sign former Eagle Jordan Matthews and even looked at bringing in another former Eagle Jeremy Maclin.
Howie Roseman has done what he’s needed to do to make sure that the team had depth at the position this time around. They might have lost Golden Tate in free agency but they were able to trade for DeSean Jackson and they’re getting back Mack Hollins. Adding JJAW only makes that whole unit deeper and stronger. He doesn’t have the pressure of being a starter on the team on Day 1, but he can still develop and contribute as the team’s 4th WR and be used in specific spots such as the red zone.
Also, you need to look at the contract situations with Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson. Agholor is on the 5th and final season of his rookie contract, leaving his future with the team beyond 2019 in doubt. It’s not a certainty that the team won’t re-sign him, but even as a huge fan of Agholor I’d be amiss if I said there wasn’t a good chance of him leaving in free agency. So, in 2020 if the team doesn’t go out and get another designated slot receiver or if Mack Hollins doesn’t pan out the way some are hoping he can, then DeSean Jackson would most likely be the best candidate to take a lot of the slot reps in Agholor’s absence.
A lot of you are going to probably say “DeSean Jackson isn’t a slot receiver”. But while Jackson does primarily function as a team’s Z receiver, he has played in the slot a good amount as well. Furthermore, you need to look at the types of routes that the Eagles’ offense asks their slot receiver (Agholor) to run. They don’t deploy him the same way many other teams like the New England Patriots deploy their slot receivers. Teams like the Patriots have them run a lot of quick-hitting routes like option routes and shallow crossers in the short area of the field, whereas the Eagles under Doug Pederson have Agholor attack more of the intermediate and deep levels of the field with routes like seams and posts. So, in that sense, Jackson would work well in the slot. Why do I bring all that up? Because if Jackson moves to the slot to replace Agholor, then JJAW will likely take Jackson’s place on the outside.
And then you go even beyond that and you start to remember that Jackson signed a new 3-year deal after being traded with a protentional out after the 2nd year. This makes his status with the team beyond the 2020 season not so much of a guarantee either. Losing 2 good receivers like Agholor and Jackson in consecutive years isn’t typically ideal, but as it stands right now it certainly is a possibility.
People sometimes forget that a portion of the young players in the league need time before they finally figure things out. Progression isn’t linear and for certain guys it may take a while, especially at the WR position. By drafting JJAW now, they’ve begun to set themselves up nicely by having him on the team now and learning while both Agholor and Jackson are still on the team. That’s how you properly build through the draft, by drafting good talent early enough at certain positions so that the transition from one player to the next is almost seamless.
The last thing to consider is how the addition of JJAW gives the Eagles’ offense a very formidable set of weapons in the red zone. Here’s a look at what their potential 12-personnel package could look like:
Alshon Jeffery, 6’3”
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, 6’2”
Zach Ertz, 6’5”
Dallas Goedert, 6’5”
The Eagles’ front office and coaching staff are aware that the team’s remarkable red zone efficiency numbers from 2017 played a huge factor in the team’s success, and getting back to that will go a long way in helping the team reach that type of success again in 2019 and beyond. Having these types of weapons with great size provides invaluable mismatches from sideline to sideline. And let’s not forget that they also have Jordan Howard who can provide great short-yardage and goal-line ability. So not only can the Eagles’ offense beat you in the air once the field shrinks inside the 20, they can beat you on the ground with power as well.
Carson Wentz’s contract extension is coming, maybe sooner rather than later. They’re all in on him and are ready to commit to him long-term. By selecting not only JJAW in the 2nd round but also OT Andre Dillard and RB Miles Sanders before that, the Eagles are giving Wentz all the offensive support he needs to help him return to his MVP-caliber form from 2017. I’m confident Wentz is going to love having a weapon like JJAW for years to come, and so will we.