The Right Side of JJ Arcega-Whiteside
Matt Nein / @mnein9
If you have been playing fantasy football for a while then you know that buying low on sophomore WRs who disappointed during their rookie year is a no brainer. JJ Arcega-Whiteside is no exception. After a very quiet rookie season, the former 57th overall pick is primed for a breakout sophomore campaign and I am all here for it.
Lets dive in!
JJAW is a physical presence on the field and is elite at using his frame to highpoint the football. The Eagles drafted JJAW to be the direct heir apparent to Alshon Jeffery who has managed 165 REC, 2122 REC Yds, and 19 TDs since becoming an Eagle in 2017. Jeffery is currently recovering from offseason foot surgery and may not be ready to start week 1 which could allow JJAW to be the starting X WR sooner rather than later.
JJAW career at Stanford got off to a somewhat slow start but ended with a dominant senior season campaign. One of the things to take into account is that JJAW could of potentially had a much better college career but, dependent on how you look at it, he was fortunate to share the field with 2 of the statistically great college football RBs of all time in Christian McCaffery and Bryce Love. Because of this elite backfield duo, Stanford ran the ball a ton while CMC and Love were there which capped JJAW’s potential.
(SO) 2016 – 60.44% (Run) vs 39.56% (Pass)
(JR) 2017 – 55.8% (Run) vs 44.12% (Pass)
(SR) 2018 – 46% (Run) vs 54% (Pass)
It was not until JJAW’s senior season that the team switched from a run heavy approach to a more balanced style. It would be an understatement to say the he benefited from this. JJAW dominated his senior season posting a stat line of 63 REC, 1059 REC Yds, and 14 TDs.
(Photo Credit: Pro Football Reference)
Even though it was not until his senior year that we saw huge numbers, JJAW had been quietly dominating the Stanford passing game his sophomore and junior years.
(SO) 2016 – 4th REC / 2nd REC Yds / 1st REC TDs
(JR) 2017 – 1st REC / 1st REC Yds / 1st REC TDs
(SR) 2018 – 1st REC / 1st REC Yds / 1st REC TDs
(Stanford team finishes.)
Even in a very run heavy scheme for the majority of his career, JJAW was still the focal point of the passing game.
JJAW’s 16.8 yards per catch in 2018 ranked 9th in the draft class.
JJAW’s passer rating when targeted was 135.6 which ranked 2nd in the draft class.
JJAW led the nation in contested catches (19) in 2018. He had nearly twice as many as the next closest WR.
After a less than stellar rookie season, there is still a lot to be excited about with JJAW. As I mentioned before, drafting JJAW was a direct correlation to Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery turns 30 this year and is a very old WR for the commanding 15.3 million dollar price tag he demands. Jeffery has also missed 9 games over the last 2 seasons 3 coming in 2018 and 6 in 2019. In addition to that, Jeffery has struggled to gain chemistry with Wentz. Since becoming an Eagle in 2017, Jeffery has only posted 3 games of 100+ receiving yards and only 7 games with 76+ receiving yards. The writing seems to be on the wall for Jeffery. Uncertain as to if he will begin the season healthy or not, JJAW has the opportunity to open the season a top the depth chart for the WRs.
Let’s be honest, JJAW was thrown into the fire last year as a rookie. The Eagles had very unfortunate injury circumstances with the veteran WR core and younger players were forced to step up when they were not fully ready. This however, I believe to be a blessing in disguise for JJAW. As we all know, experience is one of the best ways to learn to do anything in life. If the Eagles WRs had stayed healthy then JJAW would not have seen the field as much as he did. (JJAW was third for the Eagles in snap % for the WRs.) At first his snaps were very limited but as the injuries mounted he was forced to play all while being given a ton of information to learn in a short amount of time. As the season progressed and the more balls were thrown his way he absolutely gained confidence and got better.
Between weeks 11-16 JJAW saw 92% of his total yardage and Wentz had a passer rating of 128.7 when targeting him.
JJAW lead the Eagles in aDOT (18.11).
(JJAWs aDOT at Stanford was 15.7. It’s nice to see the Eagles using him as the dominant downfield jump ball threat that he is. However, HE IS NOT A ONE TRICK PONY.)
Outside of DeSean Jacksons 3 GP in 2019, JJAW led the Eagles in YDS/TGT and YDS/REC.
JJAW was 2nd for the Eagles in total snaps. 3rd in total offensive snaps.
Moving into his sophomore season, the Eagles have hired a new WR coach in Aaron Moorehead which can only mean sunny days are ahead. With the addition of several new WRs to the team like, Jalen Reagor, Marquise Goodwin, Quez Watkins, and Jon Hightower as well as the return of the veterans from injury, this will give JJAW a chance to focus exclusively on learning the X WR position in this complicated Eagles pass game. Golden Tate spent time with the Eagles back in 2018 and even he struggled to pick up the passing game learning one position and he’s considered to be a very savvy WR. Imagine what JJAW (a rookie) was going through last year as they were teaching him 3 different positions on the fly. In addition to that, JJAW played through multiple injuries last year. A quote from @JClarkNBCS who covers the Eagles for NBC: “Arcega-Whiteside even admitted to needing help getting to the bathroom mid-year because he couldn't walk. Eagles GM Howie Roseman confirmed as much earlier this offseason, stating JJAW was playing through a lower body injury for most of the year.” Not surprising, but because of the injuries and the difficultly of learning the passing game on the fly, it was difficult for JJAW to form any chemistry with Wentz. However, this offseason, Wentz has been working out consistently with Jalen Reagor and JJAW.
After watching a lot of tape over the course of the last couple weeks, JJAW was open a lot last year. However because of his lack of chemistry and timing with Wentz, he didn’t get the ball as often nor was he the first read. What I noticed a lot was that the corners would play off of him at the line quite a bit (especially against Dallas). It is clear to see that, even as a rookie, NFL DBs are already taking notice of his size and his ability to get deep and catch the contested balls.
First lets look at some Stanford tape.
JJAW’s bread and butter; high pointing the football and using his basketball background to box out the defender all while in double coverage.
Double coverage? I meant to say triple coverage.
JJAW’s college tape is highlight real after highlight real. He is elite at high pointing the football and using his body to gain position on the defender. He showed flashes of this play making ability during his injury riddled rookie year. Excellent job of tracking the football here.
In this clip, JJAW scored his only TD of the season. In the previous week against the Seahawks, JJAW could have scored another TD but failed to sit in the zone and come back to the QB. One week later, he learned from his mistake and took full advantage.
This clip was probably JJAW’s best play of the year. Sideline catch, secures the ball, tight catch in double coverage.
As the season progressed JJAW got more and more comfortable. Huge leaping catching high point the football over a defender for a nice gain. The following clip JJAW runs a curl but turns to see his QB is scrambling so JJAW immediately cuts back out and makes the catch for a 1st down. It these little nuances like this that come with experience.
For all the people that bash his route running too, please take the time to watch this 4 minute video. This guy can run every route. He isn’t just your typical jump ball specialist. (This video is from Brad Kelly who works for The Draft Network.)
It is not smart to give up on a player after a poor rookie season. DJ Chark had a worse statistical rookie season than JJAW did and now he is being drafted in the top 48 in redraft leagues. JJAW had to fight through injuries all while learning a complicated playbook on the fly and still was able to come on late and show what he can do. Going into 2020 JJAW will have the opportunity to focus on learning the X WR role. There is also a lot of skepticism that Alshon won’t be ready for the start of the season so JJAW could have the opportunity to start as soon as week 1. If he continues to progress, going into 2021 he should have the X WR role all to himself as the Eagles aren’t expected to retain Alshon past this season. JJAWs current ADP is 206 (WR 85) making him a WR7/8. I fully expect him to outperform his ADP and I like his ceiling this year to be a WR2 dependent on how much more he plays than Alshon. I expect him to finish in the WR3/4 range however. Right now JJAW can be had for a 2nd round pick or a 3rd in some leagues. Buy now before this guy takes off.