When J.J. Arcega-Whiteside takes the field for warmups on Sunday, he will see some familiar faces on the other side.
In the hours before the Eagles face the Seahawks, the rookie wide receiver is likely to chat with his Stanford wide receivers coach, Brad Idzik, now an assistant with Seattle. He might also catch up with Seahawks rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf, who he met at the NFL scouting combine.
The two wideouts went seven picks apart in April’s draft. The Eagles took Arcega-Whiteside with the 57th pick, while Seattle nabbed Metcalf at 64.
Because of their similar draft projections, Seattle coach Pete Carroll was well-versed on the Eagles rookie, despite him having limited playing time for most of the season.
“He’s a really good player, and really competitive," Carroll said Wednesday. "We loved his ability to take the ball away from guys and all that. ... Over the years, we’ve always tried to continue to find a big receiver knowing that factor is so valuable, and he fits right in with those guys. He’s a good player.”
Arcega-Whiteside’s competitiveness on 50-50 balls is what made him a highly touted draft prospect. But now that competitive spirit is what makes it difficult for him to avoid comparing himself to other rookie wideouts.
While it’s still early, Metcalf has been one of the best receivers in the 2019 draft class. The 6-foot-4, 229-pounder out of Mississippi has 35 catches for a class-best 595 yards and five touchdowns, tied for the most in the group. Arcega-Whiteside, who spent a large portion of this season stuck behind Alshon Jeffery, has three catches for 43 yards.
“It’s hard, especially when you know you have the talent and the potential and the heart to do that, too,” Arcega-Whiteside said. "But you can’t buy into it too much. Everybody is in different situations. Not everybody got drafted to be a starter on their team. Not everybody got drafted to be a backup or a future guy and everything in between.
“Everybody’s situation is different,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “You’re going to have some [players] ball out on the front end and some guys ball out on the back end. At the end of the day, you have to take every day in, learn from it, and keep getting better.”
During the predraft process, Metcalf got attention when a photo of him flexing went viral. He followed that up by running a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine.
Some questioned his route-running ability, others questioned his production and his medical reports, but Carroll said none of that scared them off.
“There was a real narrative about him coming through the combine, like he was too good to be true, almost,” Carroll said. “He was too fast, too big. Guys went after all the other things. ... We couldn’t believe that he was still there, and it’s worked out incredibly well.”
There’s still plenty of time for Arcega-Whiteside to emerge as a contributor to the Eagles offense. Against the Patriots on Sunday, Arcega-Whiteside had the team’s longest catch, hauling in a 29-yard pass from Carson Wentz on an extended play.
The 6-2, 225-pound South Carolina native is back in the lineup while Jeffery recovers from an ankle injury sustained against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 3. He got significant playing time earlier this season, when Jeffery was out with a calf injury, but Arcega-Whiteside has shown more during his second stint with the first team.
“He did some nice things in the game, even though the ball necessarily didn’t come his way,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “He ran some really good routes. He played physical. The signs of him getting work in practice kind of paid off in the game, and it’ll just give him more confidence moving forward. I’m excited again this week, depending on where Alshon is at the end of the week to play.”
Pederson also stressed the importance of being patient with young players such as Arcega-Whiteside, who had to rush to learn all the receiver positions after DeSean Jackson got hurt.