J.J. Arcega-Whiteside on Wednesday afternoon was asked about a toe-tapping touchdown catch he made in the back in the end zone earlier in the day.
As he began to answer, JJAW flashed a smile.
“You're going to have to be more specific,” he said. “I think I had like two or three of those today.”
Not only is that answer brimming with the type of confidence you wouldn’t expect from a second-year receiver following up a largely disappointing rookie season, but it was also a fair comment. Because Arcega-Whiteside caught three touchdown passes in the end zone earlier in the day. All three were impressive. It was his best performance of the summer.
Maybe it’s a sign of things to come. Maybe it’s nothing but a flash at practice in August that won’t mean much in September.
But I’ll be honest, the kid is starting to win me over.
Arcega-Whiteside, 23, had a pretty awful rookie season. Despite being a 2nd-round pick and despite having ample opportunity to make plays, he finished with just 10 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown. While he was struggling through his rookie season, several other receivers from his draft class — guys taken after him — ended up having great seasons. The comparisons were unavoidable.
And perhaps JJAW paid a little too much attention to that and everything else everyone was saying about him.
Because on Wednesday something during his Zoom call with reporters really caught my attention. Arcega-Whiteside said he no longer cares about what’s happening outside of the NovaCare Complex and he’s having a lot more fun because of it.
So I asked him when he stopped listening to the noise and he gave this insightful answer:
“I think as a rookie, it's hard to not look into those things,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “You want to know what people are saying and talking about. How you compare, and how you differ.
“You just get -- It's a whole new lifestyle, and you're just trying to catch up to it, but in the offseason, when I realized, at the end of the day, we're all human. We're all going through the same things in our lives, we're all doing, you know, work, we're all going to work, working hard, grinding, just like you guys are.
“At that point I kind of just realized, at the end of the day, I'm playing football just because it's fun. And obviously I get paid to do it as well, but it makes me a lot happier doing it, because it is fun, and it's what I've done since I was a kid. I don't need to worry about what people say, what people think of me or what, you know, is being said out there, because I'm not doing it for them. I'm doing it for my family and for me because it's fun. I've been doing this since I was a kid. Who doesn't love playing football? Who doesn't love watching football? And once I made it about that, that's when it really clicked.”
It really does seem like Arcega-Whiteside is in a better place. A better place than when his head was spinning early in his rookie season. And a better place than when his rookie season began to unravel.
I like this new JJAW. I don’t know if it will translate into real production during the season. But I’m a helluva lot more confident in him now than I was a week ago.
It seems like he is too.