PHILADELPHIA - Aaron Moorehead has seen it as both an NFL player and a coach. Young players improve the most after a year or two in the league.
"Going from Year 1 to Year 2 and Year 2 to Year 3, those are always the biggest jumps in my mind as far as players go," the Eagles' receivers coach said on Tuesday.
For J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick in 2019, that timeframe is up after two disappointing seasons that produced all of 14 receptions for a franchise in desperate need of competency among its wideouts.
As a whole, the Eagles haven't produced a 600-yard WR since 2018, the year before the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Arcega-Whiteside arrived as the No. 57 overall pick, seven spots before Seattle selected DK Metcalf.
To exacerbate that even further, the fact that JJAW did not produce as a rookie had the Eagles' doubling down at the position by selecting Jalen Reagor with the 21st overall pick in 2020. Once Reagor underachieved, it was the Heisman Trophy-winning DeVonta Smith at No. 10 overall.
By 2020, Metcalf was a second-team All-Pro and Arcega-Whiteside had gone from Alson Jeffery's heir apparent to an afterthought.
Of the 11 questions Moorehead fielded at his first media availability of the year, JJAW wasn't even brought up until the last one, long after a former undrafted free agent in Greg Ward and one about waiver-wire pickup in Travis Fulgham.
Interestingly, Moorhead seemed to intimate Arcega-Whiteside was ready to take a step forward as a second-year player but was snake-bitten by injury.
"JJ caught some bad luck last year," Moorehead claimed when asked by SI.com's Eagle Maven about the Stanford product. "He really did."
Noting that Regaor has taken some positive steps to cut off the outside noise after a rookie campaign in which the Texas native let criticism get to him a little too much, Moorehead mentioned Arcega-Whiteside had accomplished similar things leading in the 2020 season.
"JJ was able to block out that noise last year, which was great for him mentally," Moorehead said. "He just caught the injury bug. It just felt like every time he was doing good, he’d get banged up. He came back, got banged up again. And then all of a sudden, you’re looking and the season is over."
In a bottom-line league with a new coaching staff that has no skin in the game when it comes to the Arcega-Whiteside business, the lengthy wideout is likely down to his last mulligan.
"JJ will be the first one to tell you that last year was not good," Moorehead said. "But JJ is in a great place right now, playing good ball, and for a young kid, he had a good three weeks with us. Excited to see where JJ can put himself this year."
The problem comes with where you find a spot for Arcega-Whiteside.
Smith and Reagor are going to play and it looks like Ward and Fulgham are fighting for the WR3 slot with Reagor playing inside or outside depending on the winner.
In OTAs, the Eagles were looking at JJAW as a slot option in the red zone and often practicing jump balls at the end line in the back of the end zone, a clear effort to take advantage of the skill set.
Arcega-Whiteside, though, is on equal footing to other young developing receivers like Quez Watkins and John Hightower.
And production will trump pedigree moving forward.
"With the guys we have, with Quez and Hightower, and JJ, Trav, G, and obviously Jalen and DeVonta, this is a good room," said Moorehead. "This is a young room, and they’re going to be fighting their butt off for roster spots this year. I think that’s the best part of this thing. They’re fighting for playing time. They’re fighting for roster spots. That brings the best out of everybody.
"... The best guys are going to be here, and I’m excited to see how it plays out."
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.