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Eagles Film Room: Looking back at JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s rookie season

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The second-year wide receiver has a lot of ground to make up.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

It’s time for a Film Room, BGN! I haven’t done of these since I broke down Corey Clement’s college tape 3 years ago ... so, safe to say it has been a while!

These are my favorite articles to write each year. I will basically go through young players on the Eagles roster and watch every snap they took last year from the all22. I will then breakdown a player’s strengths and weaknesses and provide a few clips to back up my claims!

We are going to start with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Let’s not waste time here, we all know he had a pretty brutal rookie season. I really wanted to break him down though as I know some people really liked him pre-draft. I personally wasn’t as high but he was still my WR10 with a 3rd round grade so I did not expect him to only end up with 10 catches.

The aim of this piece is to throw out the college tape and break down his NFL tape only. I know people have recently highlighted he was injured during his rookie season, but NFL players all play hurt all the time and I can’t account for that with film pieces. I am just going to break down what I see. That’s it. As always, let’s start with the strengths. I tried to mark JJAW on the field with a little white mark before the snap but I probably forgot on some plays...

Strengths

JJAW stands at 6’2 and showed last year that he has good body control. He showed that here.

With the clip below JJAW is at the bottom of the screen. The Cowboys are in zone coverage and we can see this by the way the cornerbacks are aligned. The thing that stands out to me immediately on this play is how little the cornerback is troubled by JJAW as a vertical threat. You can just see that the cornerback never really flips his hips and never looks worried about JW beating him down the field vertically. This is a theme that we will be coming back later to. However, JJAW shows a really good ability to track the ball in the air and twist and make a very difficult catch. I think this middle of the field, intermediate area is where JJAW wins.

Next up we have two different clips where we can see JJAW win inside against press coverage and off coverage. Lets look at clip 1 first. In clip 1, JJAW shows a good understanding of route running and how to set up a cornerback to get himself open. He sells the vertical route off the line of scrimmage and waits for the cornerback to flip his hips and turn to the outside. The second the corner does that, JJAW knows he has him beaten and wins inside. Sadly, we can’t say the same for Alshon who is the first read on this play.

Moving onto clip 2, lets be real it isn’t exactly a big time play. But this play shows that JJAW can stick his foot in the ground and show some explosion out of his break. What I like here is JJAW doesn’t take unnecessary steps - sadly he does this too often at other times. It’s also a good catch as the ball is thrown low so he has to adjust to make the catch.

Moving on, here we have 2 clips where JJAW once again wins in the intermediate game. The first play here is probably my favorite play of his last year. He looks like he has a clear plan here. He gets vertical quickly and uses a really quick triple-step to force the corner into thinking he is going outside. He also uses a nice head fake rather than just rely on his feet. I really like the next bit too. Rather than simply just stop on the comeback, he realizes that Wentz has had to roll out to his right. JJAW sees this and instantly drifts out wide to give Wentz a window. In the modern day NFL, out of structure plays are crucial and you need receivers who can make a play when the original playcall breaks down.

In the second clip, it’s a very similar story. He doesn’t do much and it’s very subtle, but he slightly tilts his chest and leans his head to the inside. He gets the corner to bite easily and then he just breaks to the outside. He is also physical with the corner and pushes him off (legally) as he breaks outside to create even more separation. Annoyingly, Wentz is pushed off his spot by pressure so can’t deliver the ball.

The last clip we will look at with his strengths is one of the only times he managed to get off press last year.

Here he uses a double step where he quickly steps to the outside, then hard to the inside. The corner tries to grab him and completely whiffs. Why is he able to get off press here? Firstly, he moves his feet quickly but the key here is the way he moves his head and upper body to sell the inside move to the cornerback. Cornerbacks are not going to stare at a receiver’s feet so although quick feet look great, you need to have your feet in-sync with your upper body. JJAW does that well here and he also uses his size to play through the corner who holds him to prevent a big play. He also does a really good job tracking the ball over his shoulder and making a tough catch.

Weaknesses

Sadly, JJAW did show quite a few weaknesses on tape last year. Despite the above clip showing him beating press, he struggled with press coverage quite a bit last year.

I’ve watched this clip quite a bit and I’m honestly not sure what he is doing here. It looks like he has no plan. He doesn’t explode off the ball, he doesn’t have his feet in sync with his upper body and he is unable to force the corner off his spot. The moment the corner gets his hands on him his momentum stops and he has to drift to the side-line just to get down the field. This is not a good rep at all and highlights the struggles he faces when trying to beat press.

Here we have another two clips where JJAW struggles to get open. The first one highlights the biggest concern I have with JJAW, a complete lack of downfield element. Yes, this isn’t a deep route. It’s a 7-yard in. But, if you want to get open, you need to make the cornerback think that you are going down the field and ideally get him to open his hips before you break inside. Just watch the cornerback here for a moment. He has no safety help behind him and he has absolutely no fear of JJAW beating him down the field. None. This allows him to just sit on JJAW’s route with ease. His hips look tight here too, he doesn’t explode out of his break at all. He won’t beat NFL corners with this route.

The second clip is not great either but in JJAW’s defense he is running a corner route against a cover 4 corner which is not easy. However, you want to see a lot more from him. He’s slow off the line of scrimmage and is really slow when breaking back to the outside. Once again, he doesn’t use his size to play through the corner and give Wentz a window. Wentz is looking right at JJAW but he is never able to create a throwing window for Wentz. I want to see a big physical receiver use his size here to help his quarterback out.

I deliberately didn’t include some of the early drops in the season (we all have seen the Lions drop multiple times) but I did want to include the clip below.

Everyone drops the ball. It happens. But JJAW had a few too many bad drops in limited snaps last year which is not good for a player who pre-draft was seen as having very good hands. I included this drop because I actually like the route he ran before the drop. He sets the corner up well but he has to make this catch. You can see the frustration after the play. This is the type of play JJAW was drafted for and it’s so frustrating to see him drop this.

I have saved the biggest weakness for last. I have touched on this throughout the post but I think it is the biggest issue I have with his tape… the lack of explosiveness and the lack of a vertical threat that he provides. The first clip below is pretty bad, the second is downright awful. Let’s stick with the first one though for now, I would love to ask him what his plan is here. He’s at X again and he just doesn’t do anything to give Wentz a throwing window. He plays this snap like a burner who can just fly past the corner. The cornerback actually has his head turned around back to Wentz by the 40 yard line. This is just too easy for the corner. JJAW is not fast enough to just fly past cornerbacks and he needs to have a better to plan to win downfield than simply run. He does not have that extra gear that you want receivers to have to get on top of cornerbacks and win down the field. This is exactly what the Eagles offense lacked last year too.

The second play is brutal. Simply, brutal. Just look at JJAW and look at Alshon Jeffery on the other side of the field. He makes Alshon look so explosive. Alshon is so much quicker with his release and also his double move is so so much better. I really do not know what JJAW is doing here. I think even Jalen Mills might have covered this doubled move! Firstly, he slows down so much before the double move, that instantly makes it easier for the cornerback. Then he pauses before he goes downfield and takes an excessive number of steps. It’s just a bad route.

Overall

If I had to summarize what I thought of JJAW based on last years tape, I would say underwhelming and troubling.

On the positive side, JJAW is a big body who showed a few examples of very good body control and the ability to track the ball downfield and make adjustments. He also showed some good intermediate routes where he understood how to set up and cornerback and get open. When he gets a step, he is good at playing strong and physical and creating a throwing window for his quarterback. He also showed the ability to catch some low passes.

On the negative side, he offers no vertical element, has no explosive element to his game and struggles to separate against man coverage, especially press coverage. Even when he looks like he might have a step on a corner he just has average speed so he can’t get away from them. He takes way too many steps when trying to get out of his breaks and this stutter slows down his momentum. He also looks tight on some routes and is unable to get in and out of his break smoothly.

In terms of his future, I might be completely wrong but I wonder if JJAW could potentially transition into a big slot receiver in the future. I think JJAW is at his best on intermediate/short routes where he can use his frame to box out cornerbacks. I just do not see the explosiveness or the vertical threat to ever be able to play outside and win against man coverage consistently. If he is asked to play the X next year I really think he could struggle badly again. In the slot he will get more free releases and won’t have to deal with press as much. It’s just a thought, I am not saying I would move him to the slot full time.

The good news for JJAW is that assuming Alshon Jeffery is not here next then JJAW is the only receiver with any real size and the frame to box out cornerbacks in the Red Zone. The problem for JJAW is I do not know if the Eagles want a receiver like this anymore. The Eagles drafted a ton of playmakers with explosive speed and a vertical element. The Eagles might want 3 of DeSean Jackson, Jalen Reagor, John Hightower or Marquise Goodwin on the field at the same time next year. However, JJAW should benefit hugely from the outside speed that these receivers will bring to the offense and he should have some room in the middle of the field if the Eagles use him this way.

I am not giving up on JJAW just yet, I just have huge doubts that he ever pays off his second-round draft capital and may struggle to get playing time if the Eagles want to get more explosive moving forward.