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J.J. Arcega-Whiteside Reflects on Tough Rookie Year: ‘Nowhere to Go but Up’

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (19) catches a pass during the National Football League game between the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia
Icon Sportswire

It was bad enough that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside barely made a ripple in his rookie season.

What made it a million times worse is that two guys the Eagles bypassed when they drafted JJAW – the Redskins' Terry McLaurin and the Seahawks' D.J. Metcalf – both killed the Eagles.

McLaurin had the two biggest games against the Eagles – 125 yards in September, 130 yards in December. He's the first rookie ever with two 125-yard games against the Eagles.

And Metcalf wasn't far behind. He was only 3-for-35 in the first Seahawks game but 7-for-160 Sunday with a 58-yard touchdown.

McLaurin and Metcalf both had more yards against the Eagles this year than Arcega-Whiteside had against the entire league.

Not good.

On Sunday, while Metcalf was shattering Jeremy Maclin's NFL postseason record for receiving yards by a rookie, JJAW played just 12 snaps and didn't have a catch (one reception was negated by a penalty).

Obviously, I didn't want them to win, but I was glad that he had the game that he did," Arcega-Whiteside said of Metclf. "I'm never going to hate on anybody's success because if anybody knows how hard it is to succeed it's me, so I'll never hate on that. But at the same time I wish it wasn't against us.

The Eagles selected Arcega-Whiteside with the 57th pick in the draft. Metcalf went to the Seahawks at No. 64 and McLaurin to Redskins at No. 76.

While the Eagles' other second-round pick, Miles Sanders, was busy leading all NFL rookies in scrimmage yards, JJAW caught just 10 passes for 169 yards.

At one point he went six straight games without a catch. The last five games of the season he had two catches.

"I could have done a lot of things better, but I got one under my belt and there ain't no where to go but up from here," he said. "I'll work this offseason to become the player I know I can be for this team. Just have to go out there and do it."

Last time an Eagles wide receiver drafted in the first or second round had fewer yards in a season was 1990, when 2nd-round pick Mike Bellamy didn't catch a pass.

What made JJAW's lackluster rookie year even worse was how desperately the Eagles needed him.

By the end of the season he was literally the only wideout on the roster who didn't come from the practice squad.

Yet he could barely get on the field.

I know I can play," he said Monday. "I know I can be that player. It would be different if I was standing in front of you saying, ‘I can't do it, I can't be that guy.' I know I can be. It's going to be about patience and about hard work and when that hard work is going to pay off. That's for everybody. We all work hard and we want the results to happen now. Sometimes it doesn't work out like that, but you have to keep going.

What went wrong?

"I can't pinpoint exactly one thing," he said. "It's not the want-to, I'll tell you that. It's not the hard work. I put in a lot of hard work, a lot of extra hours in, and it didn't pay off right now, but eventually it will."

There were moments.

He had a 30-yard catch in the first Seattle game, a 29-yarder against the Patriots, a 27-yarder against Dallas and a 22-yarder in the first Giants game.

But those encouraging moments were few and far between and overshadowed by moments like the costly drop at the goal-line against the Lions.

S**t, you get thrown in the fire, you're going to either burn or you're going to claw your way out, and I didn't burn, that's for sure," he said. "I learned a lot. The rest of my life I can say I went through a lot and came out the other side better and now I feel like I can take on any challenge and any adversity because I feel like I've gone through some of the lowest of the lows as a professional athlete, and I've experienced some highs, too. And as a rookie what else could you want?

Arcega-Whiteside said he'll go back to Palo Alto to train this offseason and try to recapture "the things that made me the player I was at Stanford."

He needs to find whatever was missing or his Eagles career is going to be a short one.

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