Maybe Next Year was the name of a powerful documentary about Philadelphia Eagles’ fandom. It could also be the title of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s career.
The former second-round pick (57th overall in 2019) has been trying to shed the bust label after his first two (uneventful) years in the pros. He has seen action in 24 games over that stretch, including just eight games during an injury-riddled 2020 campaign. Arcega-Whiteside has 14 receptions for 254 yards and one touchdown on 627 offensive snaps.
“He just caught the injury bug [last year],” wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead told reporters. “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.”
The Eagles have used first-round picks on receivers in each of the past two NFL drafts, leading some to believe this could be his last hurrah in Philly. Maybe he gets cut coming out of training camp. The team has great (albeit unproven) depth at the receiver position heading into the 2021 season. DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor are the projected starters, with Greg Ward and Travis Fulgham pushing for the third spot. Quez Watkins and John Hightower are also expected to make an impact in Year 2. That leaves Arcega-Whiteside fighting an uphill battle this summer versus undrafted players Jhamon Ausbon and Michael Walker.
Don’t count him out, says Moorehead. The 24-year-old is in a “great place right now” and his future remains bright.
“J.J. will be the first one to tell you that last year was not good,” Moorehead said. “But J.J. 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 J.J. can put himself this year.”
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Pro Football Focus Ranks Eagles 30th
Talent and potential can only take you so far in the NFL. Based on last season’s results, the Eagles just don’t have enough proven commodities at wide receiver. Pro Football Focus ranked their pass-catching group 30th in the league for 2021 while pointing out that “Eagles wide receivers have ranked last in receiving grade in each of the last two years.”
The exciting addition of Smith (Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama), coupled with what everyone hopes is a breakout sophomore season from Reagor (64.0 overall grade in 2020) should make life easier for Jalen Hurts moving forward.
Then again, no one knows for sure what the new-look offense is going to look like under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni. The unit will be losing arguably their top weapon in Zach Ertz, too. One big positive could be Fulgham’s continued development (via Pro Football Focus):
One of the bright sides of last season’s struggles was the emergence of Travis Fulgham, who had bounced around with several teams before posting an impressive 71.2 overall grade and leading the Eagles with 539 receiving yards. Beyond that top three, Greg Ward may have a role in the possession game, as he’s averaged 8.3 yards per reception in his career. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has disappointed as a former second-rounder with just 26 career targets. And 2020 fifth-rounder John Hightower adds another speed component.
Moorehead Preaching ‘Juice All Day’
The Eagles’ coaching staff could have cut ties with Moorehead and started from scratch. That is usually what happens when a new regime takes over. But Sirianni knew Moorehead from their days together in Indianapolis.
Passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo also worked with Moorehead in the college ranks at Texas A&M. So they kept the guy who used to catch touchdown passes from Peyton Manning to teach the young receivers on the roster how to improve. Moorehead wants them to bring the “juice all day.”
“We’re walking around with smiles, it’s juice all day,” Moorehead said. “The guys, they should have young, fresh legs, and they should be running around all day. We gotta have energy. This room, it can’t be the old, grumpy — you know, the O-line guys are older and they’re going to be grumpy and walking around here – we’ve got to be the young energy of the offensive room.”
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