There’s a war going on. It’s over the word “fit.” It involves the Philadelphia Eagles’ second second-round selection: JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Scroll through the Twitter mentions or Reddit comments and you’ll see the battle being waged. Some are having a hard time coming to grips with the Stanford products’ role.
Full disclosure: I loved the selection. I had Arcega-Whiteside (or “JJAW”, or “Cuervo”, or “JJAWN”, or “JJAWN Cuervo”) as my 38th ranked prospect and checking in as my WR4. Pro Football Focus is on my side on this one, so we are friends now. They ranked him as their 23rd overall prospect and praised the selection as one of the best picks of day two. I’ll have a full film review of how he graded out so well but let’s put that aside for right now. Let’s address the issue of fit, which has been asked about by many. By doing that, we have to talk about the philosophy entering the draft.
The Eagles did their best to fill any immediate needs in free agency. There wasn’t a spot on the starting twenty-two that wasn’t at least occupied by a replacement-level starter. This includes linebacker, as the Eagles only field three backers a quarter of the time. This strategy gave them the flexibility to either try to upgrade certain positions or draft for depth and/or the future. This allows you to take the best player available on your board. That’s a good thing, or so I’ve been told.
Arcega-Whiteside is in a similar mold of Alshon Jeffery, causing a mental logjam for those trying to envision how he fits. In the short term, those concerns are valid. The Eagles will have to find a way to work Arcega-Whiteside into the fold and even if Nelson Agholor is eventually traded between now and the deadline, the slot isn’t a likely option.
Regardless of if they come for the slot or the outside, there are plenty of snaps to gobble up. Even with DeSean Jackson signing and Mack Hollins returning there’s playing time to be earned. In all, there are 1,032 reps up for grabs if you go off of last years totals. If Agholor is traded before the season, that number skyrockets to 2,014.
What is the best case scenario for the Eagles wide receiver corps? I would argue that it’s Jeffery, Jackson, Agholor, and Hollins all staying healthy. That would make life difficult for Arcega-Whiteside, certainly. How likely is that?
Jeffery has played one full season in the past four years. He was playing with a torn rotator cuff in that full season. Jackson turns 33-years old this season and hasn’t made it a full sixteen since 2013. Hollins was a figment of our imagination last year. Even Zach Ertz has only one full season to his name, which was last year. I’m not breaking any news here when I say that players get injured in the NFL.
Early in the season the Eagles were getting significant wide receiver snaps from Josh Perkins and Kamar Aiken. Later Jordan Matthews filled the void until Golden Tate joined the fray. Matthews played well enough, but that can’t happen again. With the Arcega-Whiteside selection, the Eagles bought themselves an insurance policy.
Who can play outside when the Eagles kick Jackson into the slot? JJAW. Who can join Jeffery in the red zone when the field condenses? JJAWN. Who fills in for them in the event of an injury? JJAWN Cuervo. Who can accentuate the run game if Ertz misses time? Dallas Goedert, but Arcega-Whiteside gets after it too.
If Arcega-Whiteside only sees - and I’m spitballing here - 30% of the snaps, the Eagles are still well off. It means they didn’t lose significant time from a depended upon contributor. That also allows the Eagles to bring him along at a comfortable pace. Howie Roseman has said that the wide receiver position takes longer to develop than others. This likely factored into the decision of drafting for the future instead of waiting until a need slapped them in the face.
In the long term, there are several scenarios that can play out. I want Jeffery to be with the Eagles forever, but what if his career gets derailed between now and 2021? That’s the last year of his contract and comes with an approximately $16M cap hit. They’d save $13M by cutting him. If Arcega-Whiteside is ready for the full-time role at that time, he represents significant savings. That’s useful for a team that will be doling out franchise quarterback money.
If Jeffery sticks for the long haul, does Jackson? He’ll be in his mid-thirties by then. That would leave the Eagles with a duo not unlike Jeffery’s pairing with Brandon Marshall when he was with the Chicago Bears. Jeffery had two of his best years with that dynamic.
The Eagles spent the offseason ensuring they added speed and reinforcements to the offense. Not only did they accomplish that, but they added an insurance plan and a potential outside starter for the future. The front office and coaching staff had months to debate and make arguments regarding Arcega-Whiteside’s role. They have even longer to incorporate him into the offense. They have even longer than that to develop him.
I’m not worried about Arcega-Whiteside’s fit today. I’m excited about how he can help the offense in the future.