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JJ Arcega-Whiteside Is Moving To Tight End: Will It Save His Career?

JJ Arcega-Whiteside has been a major disappointment.

Drafted in the second round, the Stanford product has not had a good NFL career thus far. The big, physical receiver generated excitement entering the 2019 NFL Draft. Scouts drooled over his big body, sound hands, and contested catch ability.

Regrettably, his career has not had such kind adjectives surrounding it. Arcega-Whiteside has had little success. He had just 290 total receiving yards in three seasons. Even more of a concern, he has dropped five of his 35 targets thus far.

Thus, Jeff McLane from the Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that the Eagles will move him to tight end. This is clearly a last-ditch effort to extend his career, or get a return on investment for the Philadelphia front office.

What Was JJ Arcega-Whiteside Like As A Prospect?

JJ Arcega-Whiteside had a terrific senior season at Stanford in the lead-up to the NFL Draft. He had 63 receptions for 1059 yards, 14 touchdowns, and, as PFF reported, a phenomenal 19 contested catches for the Cardinals.

The prospective traits of Arcega-Whiteside were tantalizing. In his senior season, the receiver flashed a huge catch radius, incredible physicality, and great hands that became his calling cards entering the draft.

As he began to generate buzz, teams saw him as a player who could win the 50/50 balls thrown up to him. Arcega-Whiteside met the ball at the highest point, catching with his hands consistently. He attacked the ball and used his long arms to get separation at the point of the catch.

Not all of Arcega-Whiteside’s tape looked good, however. The Stanford prospect made a living off contested catches. The proclivity of Arcega-Whiteside to use physicality to separate at the catch point, instead of utilizing release or route running, caused some concern for some front offices.

Not a burner, he entered the draft with average speed and stiff route running. His route tree was not extensive at Stanford, and it truly showed. He played bigger than his frame in college, but he was about to learn that in the NFL it is not so easy to rely solely on physical dominance.

What Happened When He Got To Philly

The Eagles were excited to get their new weapon into the fold in the city of Brotherly Love.

However, JJ Arcega-Whiteside was immediately humbled. His first two contests resulted in only seven targets. With those opportunities, the rookie dropped one, caught only two, and had one intercepted. What an awful start.

The rest of his first season went along in a similarly underwhelming fashion. He ended the season only snatching ten of his 22 targets all season, finishing the year with 169 yards and one touchdown. Rapidly, it seemed that opposing defenses were able to easily contain him, mitigating his strength and physical edge. His value in the passing game sunk. Somehow, his catch radius seemed to shrink, and his strength dwindle. It was not a pretty sight.

To add insult to injury, his rookie season displayed a lack of awareness on the field. He was unable to determine where to sit in zone coverage. So accustomed to bullying college corners, Arcega-Whiteside tended to go too shallow in sit routes, leading to insignificant gains and poor positioning for yards after the catch.

Furthermore, Arcega-Whiteside struggled mightily when battling press coverage. He lacked release skills, allowing every corner to sit on his hip throughout the entire route and be in the perfect position to break up the pass.

Philly Shortens The Rope

Unfortunately, the Stanford product’s numbers were even worse in season two. While he would have momentary flashes of improvement in key weaknesses like route running, he would immediately extinguish these hopeful sparks with atrocious reps shortly after. Ultimately, the season ended with him catching half of his eight targets. Somehow, Arcega-Whiteside made it even worse. One of his targets ended in a drop and another in an interception. Just to make matters worse.

2021 showed there was more room to sink. JJ Arcega-Whiteside had almost no opportunities all season, logging just 170 offensive snaps for the entire year. Somehow more disappointing was his production. He caught just two of his five targets, for 36 yards. The other three balls were all dropped. In one game.

I wish I was joking.

To add insult to injury, one of those drops was an interception. The game where Arcega-Whiteside got a legitimate chance to show any flash of resurgence was a complete disaster.

What Will A Positional Change Do For JJ?

Arcega-Whiteside is clearly on his last chance. At this point, the Eagles are willing to try something unorthodox to allow their investment to show some return. Furthermore, the positional change to tight end may permit Arcega-Whiteside the ability to demonstrate some of the skills that made him so dynamic and exhilarating at Stanford.

Entering his fourth season with the Eagles, Arcega-Whiteside has some work to do to facilitate the positional transition. He also must win back the faith of the fan base.

Hopefully, moving to tight end may enable him to make more frequent use of the traits that left scouts salivating over his prospective ceiling. His ability in college to box out opponents and make himself a big target with an enormous catch radius may have better use coming from the inside of the field. Additionally, Arcega-Whiteside can take advantage of slower linebackers in coverage, using his speed to get up field.

His 6’2″, 225 lbs. frame will work a little different at tight end. While he will be faster than most linebackers, their physicality will likely mitigate some of his biggest strengths. Larger defenders will be able to neutralize the size, catch radius and contact prowess at the catch point that made him such an intriguing prospect.

Furthermore, they will bully him in the run game at his current weight. He needs to add size to his frame to add effectiveness in the run game, where he fortunately already has a willingness to sacrifice his body.

Finally, If Arcega-Whiteside can continue his willingness to block and couple it with the navigation of a position change, there is a sliver of hope that he can be a meaningful contributor to the Eagles team in need of tight end depth behind Dallas Goedert.

What Is Next?

There is no way to know if this will be effective until we see it.

While my bet is on a resounding no, the Eagles must attempt to gain some return on their investment. Between Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor, there has been far too much disappointment with pass catchers in recent drafts.

The coaching staff has made a low-risk, moderate-reward move here. In the event it doesn’t work, no harm no foul. Philadelphia will make an assessment and cut him swiftly if necessary.

Alternatively, he may transition to a special teams player exclusively. His combination of size, strength, and physicality should allow him to be a solid contributor there.

One thing is for certain. Arcega-Whiteside moving to tight end will not save his career. His ability to adjust to NFL defenses will.

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