Arcega-Whiteside is the Eagles’ Wild Card at WR
When it comes to the NFL there may not be a better example of our microwave culture than Eagles receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a player already deemed a failure by so many after an admittedly difficult rookie season in which the Stanford product simply couldn't gain a foothold on an offense in desperate need of wideouts after injuries befelled the two presumed constants - DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery.
When you couple Arcega-Whiteside's lack of production with the immediate impact by some chosen after him in the draft, like Seattle's DK Metcalf and Washington's Terry McLaurin, plenty have already been asked to pay penance for the "failed" second-round pick, who was chosen No. 57 overall, seven spots ahead of Metcalf, who wasn't on Philadelphia's draft board, and a whopping 19 spots ahead of McLaurin, who tortured the Philadelphia secondary to the tune of 10 receptions on 12 targets for 255 yards in the two games between the division rivals.
Other "difference makers" were chosen in the second round before Arcega-Whiteside as well, players like San Francisco's Deebo Samuel, Tennessee's A.J. Brown and Kansas City's Mecole Hardman, making Philadelphia's decision the sore thumb in the process.
Former offensive coordinator Mike Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch had already been sacrificed to the altar of “failed promise” with Walch being replaced by Aaron Moorehead, the Eagles’ fifth WR coach in the five-year Doug Pederson era.
At the position as a whole, many have been surprised by general manager Howie Roseman's lack of activity in the offseason, something he was forced to address in a conference call last week by saying his mindset at WR is "maybe different than it’s publicly viewed.”
Assets and strategy be damned, the public, of course, wanted DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs, never mind Robby Anderson, Breshad Perriman or Demarcus Robinson.
About the only thing Roseman did admit was that there was a bit of misread when it came to the market at WR, perhaps due to the perceived strength of the upcoming draft class. Philadelphia’s free-agency plan was budgeted to go in different directions with the obvious focus on cornerback and then the standard approach that began with Andy Reid and Joe Banner at the turn of the century, build up front first and foremost.
“I understand the passion about receiver,” said Roseman when discussing his actions so far, which went heavy on defense. “I don’t know that it was necessarily that we put more of a preference on fixing the defense than the offense. I think we tried to accumulate as much information about what was available to us and what we could do and get the players that we thought could make a difference.
“And where we were when we pulled the trigger on these deals, it was obvious with the information that we had that these were things we could do to improve the team.”
Receiver will be addressed but Roseman explained that the view inside the NovaCare Complex differs from the perception outside its gates.
“We do feel like we do have some talent at the receiver position,” said the GM.
Jackson and Jeffery are the proven players but the wild card is Arcega-Whiteside and Roseman added some intrigue to that mix by intimating that the now second-year player was dealing with some lower-body issues he played through as a rookie.
“We drafted a guy in the second round last year," said Roseman. "We know the biggest jump is Year 1 to Year 2. Now, we’ll see how this all goes with the offseason program. But J.J. is a guy that when we drafted had some lower-body stuff that he was dealing with.”
SI.com asked an AFC personnel source about Arcega-Whiteside and what went wrong in 2019.
“You have to be there every day to understand that,” said the source, “but the kid has got talent. There is no way there are just going to throw up their hands and write him off.”
After all, it’s not like the rest of the NFL had Argega-Whiteside graded as a priority free agent and Philadelphia took a massive leap by selecting him in the second-round. He was a high-level prospect universally regarded as a premium pick.
“He was one of the guys we thought was NFL ready,” said the AFC source. “I could see certain people knocking him down a bit with speed-deficiencies but that’s a big-bodied kid who can win in the red zone.”
The 50/50 stuff never materialized last season but that doesn’t mean it will not moving forward.
Morehead, who played in the league for five seasons in Indianapolis, is a physical presence like Arcega-Whiteside at 6-foot-3 and may be better equipped to help Arcega-Whiteside tap into his own physical gifts.
As for the other deficiencies, like most young receivers, Arcega-Whiteside has a limited grasp of the route tree and needs to be more consistent in hitting his spots to earn Carson Wentz’s trust.
“He’s fully healthy," sad Roseman, "and he needs to take a big jump."
John McMullen covers the Eagles for SI.com. You can listen to John every day at 4 ET on ESPN 97.3 in South Jersey and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen