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Eagles receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside sees his role diminish, but he’s learning

Fourteen receivers in his draft class have outgained him through the air this season, including 10 receivers picked after the Eagles took him with the No. 57 pick in last year’s draft.

When Alshon Jeffery was sidelined with a calf injury for the better part of three games, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was the primary "X" receiver in his spot.
When Alshon Jeffery was sidelined with a calf injury for the better part of three games, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was the primary "X" receiver in his spot.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

The early returns of the second-round pick the Eagles spent on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside don’t exactly pop off the page, and he’s aware of it.

The rookie receiver out of Stanford has managed just two catches for 14 yards. Ten receivers drafted after the Eagles took him at No. 57 have more receiving yardage this season.

Does that bother him?

“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “But, at the same time, I can’t worry about what anybody else is doing. They’re in different situations than I’m in. Everybody is in a different situation, regardless of the team. Obviously, as a competitor, I want to be the best rookie, the best receiver ... but you’ve got to be patient and when your time comes, be ready.”

Arcega-Whiteside drew comparisons to Eagles starting wideout Alshon Jeffery during the predraft process. Now, he has a locker near Jeffery’s, and his role on the team has been filling in when Jeffery misses time.

When Jeffery was sidelined with a calf injury for the better part of three games, Arcega-Whiteside was the primary "X" receiver in his spot. Being thrust into game reps at Jeffery’s position kept him from becoming comfortable with the other receiver positions, which has limited his ability to get back on the field now that Jeffery has returned.

Offensive coordinator Mike Groh said Arcega-Whiteside is learning the plays at the other positions after spending most of camp working on one spot.

“When Alshon’s out and misses time, he’s the next guy in the game at that position,” Groh said during his Tuesday news conference. “In practice, he ends up having to practice primarily there. When Alshon is here, that gives him the flexibility to bounce around a little bit more as opposed to everything being in the classroom.”

At least for now, Arcega-Whiteside is stuck behind Mack Hollins at the other receiver positions. Hollins has primarily been a special teams player since being drafted in the fourth round in 2017 but has cracked the receiver rotation this season with DeSean Jackson missing time with an abdomen injury. Hollins has 10 catches for 125 yards while playing 62 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.

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Despite the lack of production, it’s far too early to make a determination on Arcega-Whiteside’s prospects, and the Eagles will be the first to let you know.

Groh said he’s still optimistic about the team’s young receivers, and expects them both to be in the mix moving forward.

“We’re excited about J.J.,” Groh said. “If you look at the circumstances, J.J. has been primarily playing our 'X' receiver position. ... He’s had to maintain his focus there. We’ve been able to cross-train him in a couple different spots. We have a lot of confidence in Mack and what he’s able to do. I think you’ll continue to see both those guys in the mix.”

Arcega-Whiteside said he has a full understanding of the "X" position, and is now getting to a point where he’s confident playing at any position. Even still, the learning curve of memorizing three receiver positions’ plays during the week has been an adjustment.

“Just trying to get experience and reps at all three positions, it’s kind of tough," Arcega-Whiteside said. "Especially when the plays are drawn up specifically game to game, week to week, you go in and it’s like, ‘OK, this is basically a whole new playbook every week and I’m learning all three positions.' It’s tough.”