J.J. Arcega-Whiteside may have been a surprise choice, but Eagles high on him

Ed Kracz

The wide receiver run began one pick before the Eagles’ turn arrived at No. 57 in the second round of Friday night’s NFL Draft.

Kansas City started it when the Chiefs selected Georgia’s speedy Mecole Hardman. The Eagles followed by taking J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Five of the next 10 players picked after that were wide receivers, including Ohio State’s Parris Campbell at No. 59. The rest: Andy Isabella (No. 62), D.K. Metcalf (64), Dontae Johnson (66), and Jalen Hurd (67). Remember those names, because whatever they do in the NFL will be compared to whatever Arcega-Whiteside does.

Three safeties were taken in those next 10 picks, too, a position everyone believed the Eagles would take at some point in the draft due to the age of their current corp. Those safeties were Nasir Adderley (60), Taylor Rapp (61), and Juan Thornhill (63). The other two in that 10-player run were defensive tackles Trysten Hill (58) and Zach Allen (65).

The Eagles also went through the draft without taking a linebacker, another spot some thought they would target after losing Jordan Hicks in free agency.

“I think it's fair to look at those two groups and say that it's probably something that we would have liked to have done,” said executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman. “There were a couple times in the draft where we were deciding between a couple guys. But again, we are going to be consistent. Right or wrong, when we have the chance to draft a lineman or another position, we are going to focus on the lineman.

“We had a couple of those opportunities where maybe we could have gone in a different direction and we decided to do that. But I think when we sit back down and look at it, maybe that was an area we thought we'd address, but you can't go into a draft and just say you're going to address it.”

It would seem, more than 72 hours after the Eagles took Arcega-Whiteside, is that you either love or hate this pick. Maybe, as Roseman postulated, it was because not many people on the east coast stay up late for those west coast games.

“We heard from a bunch of people after we picked J.J. like we were very surprised J.J. fell,” said Roseman. “Sometimes these West Coast guys who play late, they get a little underrated because people aren't watching those late games. This guy's a baller. He’s got a very good skill-set and I think when our fans get to know him they are going to be really proud. He symbolizes Eagle mentality, Eagle football.”

Arcega-Whiteside had a third-round grade on him by NFL analyst Lance Zierlein, but the Eagles don’t care what Zierlein thinks, only what their scouts tell them. And they liked him.

“I think strength translates in this league” said vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas. “You're not going to separate from every corner in this league. There's a ton of talented players and you're going to have to make tough contested catches. You know, those guys, their game travels, man, and when it's cold here and you need a strong guy to go get the ball and make a play, I mean, those are the type of guys we're looking for.”

Added Roseman: “The other thing is his ability at the line of scrimmage to set defenders up, I mean, he's a very crafty guy in his separation and his ability to use his basketball skills to box out guys. He creates separation from that, and then he showed at his pro day his athleticism, as well. This guy is a good football player and we're happy to get him.”

Arcega-Whiteside put up 28 touchdowns in 33 career games, with a career average of 16.4 yards per catch. That’s production. He is 6-3, 225 pounds with a basketball and track and field background while growing up in South Carolina, where he as an all-state basketball player and finished fourth in the state track and field championships in the 100 meters.

It was his sophomore or junior year in high school when he decided to concentrate solely on football, even though both parents played professional basketball overseas and his two uncles played on Spain’s national team in the 1984 Summer Olympics.

“There was like a game where I scored a game-winning touchdown, and that feeling, I was like, there's no feeling in basketball that's going to compare to this,” said Arcega-Whiteside. “So just having that bus ride back and everybody is like, ‘Dude, you're going to go to college, you're going to make it to the pros, like let's go.’

“Having that feeling, I was like, I've got to make it happen. There's no better feeling in the world. So yeah, and then basketball was always a sport that I grew up playing, grew up learning about, but football was like, dang, I can just come out here and just be me, and if I make a mistake, my parents aren't going to know I made a mistake.”

Growing up on South Carolina, after being born in Spain, Arcega-Whiteside admired from afar the talents of another South Carolina product, Alshon Jeffery. (Above video shows him talking about Jeffery)

The two are now teammates, and both possess similar skillsets.

“When I grew up watching Alshon, being from Carolina, it's like, that's a guy that everybody in the state knew,” said Arcega-Whiteside. “As a kid, it's like, dang, I want to be him one day. I want to be playing college football, like representing my state, having all the kids look up to me.

“That was me. On top of that, when I get to Stanford and he's tearing it up in the league, like dang, I've got to do whatever he's doing because whatever he's doing is working and I want to emulate the same kind of style.”

If he does that, all those doubting this pick will turn into believers.