By Mark Gallagher
On Thursday night, Eagles quarterback Josh McCown’s favorite target was rookie receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
He caught eight passes for 104 yards and a TD on nine targets — seven of those eight catches came from McCown. The rookie displayed an ability to separate over the middle, using his 6-3 frame to shield defenders.
Taking advantage of soft coverage, Arcega-Whiteside displayed solid run-after-catch ability despite his size. According to Next Gen Stats, 50 of the rookie’s 104 receiving yards came after the catch (on those plays he had a total expected YAC of just 27 yards, per NGS). Three of the wideout’s eight receptions came on 10-plus air-yard throws. The prettiest play was a 20-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone.
“One of the things (about) J.J. is (he is) a hard worker,” coach Doug Pederson said after the game, via the team’s official website. “You see it in practice every day. He comes to work every day. He wants to get better. He wants to be taught. He wants to learn. The red zone, we know he can be explosive. He was able to do that really not only there, but out in the field.”
Drafted out of Stanford in the second round, Arcega-Whiteside combines size and vice-grips for mitts that should make him a go-to red-zone target down the road.
“It’s funny. I was just talking to my coach and he was saying, ‘Just go out there and play. Go out there, use your technique, just play fast. Do whatever you did at Stanford,'” he said. “I was thinking right before that route I’m just going to play fast on this one and see what happens. Got open and I was able to score a touchdown. I’m pretty thankful for that.”
An outside receiver (just two of his 36 snaps Thursday came from the slot, via Next Gen Stats), the rookie is behind Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor on the depth chart. With the Eagles expected to run more two tight-end sets with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert this season, it could make it even more difficult for Arcega-Whiteside to crack the rotation. However, if injuries strike (and the Eagles top two boundary receivers have an injury history), the rookie could see an opening this season.