What the draft experts said before Eagles drafted Arcega-Whiteside


Three years, 16 catches.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside so far has been one of the most disappointing 2nd-round wide receivers in NFL history.

Only two receivers drafted in the 1st or 2nd round who’ve played in at least 40 games their first three seasons have had fewer catches.


One was Bobby Crespino, drafted with the 10th pick in 1961 by the Browns. He caught six passes for 97 yards and two TDs in his first three seasons.

The other was Gerald McNeil, another Browns pick 25 years later. McNeil was the 44th pick in 1986, and he caught just 14 passes in his first three seasons, although he did make the Pro Bowl as a punt returner in 1987.

Then there’s JJAW.

Ten catches as a rookie. Four last year. Two this year.

And while it’s fair to ask how the Eagles could miss so badly on a 2nd-round pick, the reality is that just about everybody missed badly on Arcega-Whiteside.

With the draft approaching in two months, we thought it would be interesting to look back on 10 draft experts and what they thought of JJAW before the Eagles made him the 57th pick in the 2019 draft (or in a couple cases, immediately after the draft).

The intention isn’t to embarrass anybody. On the contrary. All these draft analysts based their conclusions on exhaustive tape study, and their scouting reports on Arcega-Whiteside were all incredibly detailed and comprehensive. These are some highly respected draft analysts. I’ve included just short excerpts from most of them.

The Eagles saw what these draft experts saw. But sometimes everybody is just wrong. OK, not everybody. One of these guys flat-out nailed it.

NFL.com: “Big, strong target who plays like he's big and strong and gets more and more dangerous the closer he gets to the red zone. Arcega-Whiteside plays with functional quickness in spurts, but not enough to get away from tight coverage and he won't run by many NFL cornerbacks on go routes. However, his basketball bloodlines are on full display every time the ball is in the air, using his body control and ball skills to excel at combat catches and back-shoulder throws. Arcega-Whiteside may not be explosive, but his competitive nature should help make him a future NFL starter.”

Comment: NFL.com correctly predicted that JJAW wouldn’t run past anybody. Perhaps the lesson here is that “competitive nature” isn’t enough to overcome a limited skill set.

Gary Davenport, Bleacher report: “Stanford's J.J. Arcega-Whiteside won't be the first wideout selected on Day 2. But with a tantalizing combination of size, strength, speed and the best high-pointing skills of any receiver in this draft, Arcega-Whiteside could wind up being the best wide receiver selected outside the first round in 2019. As a matter of fact, the 6'2", 225-pounder may wind up the best wideout from this class, period.”

Comment: Davenport went out on a limb, and I like that. But the “best wideout from this class, period” has fewer yards through three seasons than 18 receivers drafted in 2019, 13 of them drafted after him. Among that group? Former Eagles practice squadders Travis Fulgham and KeeSean Johnson.

Draft Network: “Love the way he uses his head and his hands to ensure space to climb. He doesn't always sell vertical components with effectiveness but he's got ample awareness of changing his angles to create space and good feet at the top of routes. Has let a few gimmes get away but generally speaking has good hands, a notable catch radius and is effective to pluck the ball in traffic. His hand strength is exception and and definitely one of his better overall qualities

(His contested catch ability is) unbelievable. He welcomes the contact and will box out defensive backs to pluck the ball. His wins in the red zone are phenomenal. He'd be on a lot of posters if that was still a thing. His strength, catch radius and sense of jostling to get into the "low post" are big winners."

Comment: A very detailed look at JJAW’s strengths. None of which have been strengths in his first three NFL seasons.

Pro Football Focus: “No one in this class possesses a better combination of ball skills and body control than the 6-2, 225-pound wideout. While that’s obviously an opinion, our data vehemently backs up that claim. A lot of guys get tagged as being good at contested catches. Arcega-Whiteside is on his own level though. a nuanced route runner who can get himself clean with his release and separate from defenders with his physicality. … Arcega-Whiteside deserves more first-round hype.”

Comment: First-round hype? Can you imagine if the Eagles took JJAW in the first round? Of course that means they wouldn’t have drafted Andre Dillard. But it might have meant taking JJAW and Jalen Reagor in the 1st round in back-to-back years. Yikes.

College Football Metrics NFL Draft Scouting Report: “Everyone seems to love Arcega-Whiteside, and I don’t. Part of it I’ve seen a good amount of his tape, and I didn’t get ‘it’ at all. Slow out of the gate, constantly covered tightly, good hands but never open. Then I saw his weak pro day numbers and was like...‘Yup.’ I thought he’d fall mightily in the draft and then the constantly-making-me-go-‘WTF’-Eagles selected him #52 overall (their last 4-5 years of drafts is head-shaking). And then I see reports of him working in the slot and people talking about him as the Eagles future #1 WR, and yet I’m sitting over here wondering if he should even be drafted. I’m watching a UDFA talent WR – good hands, slow feet, no downfield burst, no sharp cuts 3+ yards down the field. Everything is a leaping catch or contested catch. No thank you.”

Comment: OK, the Eagles need to hire whoever wrote this because this dude is a genius. The only draft analyst I found who completely nailed it. I looked everywhere for his name but couldn’t find it.

But spot on.

Mel Kiper: "When I had to pick my ‘favorite’ prospects in this class at every position -- regardless of ranking -- I chose … Arcega-Whiteside as my receiver. The 6-foot-2 Arcega-Whiteside is like a basketball player in the red zone, boxing out corners to snag touchdowns. He had 28 career scores. He also ran a 4.49 at his pro day, so he can be a really good No. 2 receiver."

Comment: Nobody is more respected than Kiper, who’s been doing this for ESPN for nearly four decades. But he too just missed on JJAW. Like many of the analysts, he went big with the basketball and boxing out angles, a part of JJAW’s game that just never materialized.

Draftwire: “Arcega-Whiteside is physically impressive and his basketball background is evident, showing the ability to box out, out-physical defenders and handle the ball with phenomenal ball skills. While he isn’t an elusive player, Arcega-Whiteside is more than just a possession target, always looking to turn catches downfield and create yards after the catch. Overall, Arcega-Whiteside isn’t a speed demon and needs work with his route running and the finer points of the position, but the former Stanford product’s NFL body and strong hands make him an intriguing wide receiver, who can earn his checks at the sticks and in the red zone. Projection: 3rd round.”

Comment: OK, Draftwire brings up the basketball stuff but also acknowledged that JJAW wasn’t a finished product, and they didn’t have him as a 1st- or 2nd-round pick, so they were on the right track.

Michael Kist, Bleeding Green Nation: “Arcega-Whiteside projects as a starting caliber X receiver by year two that can contribute at all levels of the field in year one. That was my summary of him before the draft, so obviously his situation in Philadelphia may delay production you typically associate with those expectations. My final evaluation of Arcega-Whiteside resulted in a firm second round grade. For where he was selected, he represented great value. Arcega-Whiteside gives the Eagles a great insurance policy that fits snugly in the offense.”

Comment: Kist was spot on with the “situation in Philadelphia may delay production” part of this.

Year 4 maybe?

Nicholas McGee, Last Word on Sports: "Arcega-Whiteside enters the draft in need of substantial polish for to him become the dominant receiver his traits give him the potential to be.
Still, with his abilities at the catch point, there is perhaps no wideout in this class with as much touchdown upside as Arcega-Whiteside. If he lands in an offense that can quickly harness it, he should be an immediate scoring threat at the next level. Teams struggling in the red zone may be infatuated with Arcega-Whiteside, whose basketball background undoubtedly plays into his ability to dominate in contested-catch situations. There is also a reason for hope he can become more than just a jump-ball specialist, and if a team makes use of his surprising speed and is successful in helping him learn a full route-tree, Arcega-Whiteside could well to develop into an ultra-productive starting receiver at the next level."

Comment: The “touchdown upside” part. JJAW has one career touchdown catch, and that was his rookie year in Miami.

Mike Tagliare, Fantasy Pros: “With all the incredible athletes in this draft class, it’s easy to forget about JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He reminds me of a smaller version of Mike Evans. There are a few players who you could use as comparisons for Arcega-Whiteside, but Evans is someone who uses his body extremely well. He’s not a special route-runner, but he’s good enough. It’s important to note that Evans is three inches taller than him, but they have the same style of play. It’s extremely unlikely Arcega-Whiteside walks into an offense and gets 150-plus targets like Evans did, but he should be making an impact for some team, particularly in the red zone.”

Comment: JJAW isn’t reminding anyone of Mike Evans these days.

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