You might’ve groaned when you heard the news.
Not only did J.J. Arcega-Whiteside make the Eagles’ initial 53-man roster for the 2021 season … but he made it over Travis Fulgham.
Being a high draft pick definitely didn’t hurt JJAW’s cause, but the Eagles are giving a much different reason for why he made the roster over Fulgham.
“I think the first thing is with Travis, here's a guy who obviously had a heck of a stretch for us last year,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “And we looked at it that this was a new year and this was a new beginning, and we wanted to go based on what we saw and take the whole process into play.
“When you talk about J.J. and what he did during camp and his contributions on offense, his willingness and his desire to be an excellent special teams player, which you saw during the preseason, and the whole picture of that and how it fits into the group at receiver.”
It might seem crazy.
One player is an underachieving second-round pick who has failed to do much of anything during his first two years in the NFL. The other came out of nowhere last season to be one of the best receivers in the NFL for a month.
During his magical five-game run last year, Fulgham had 435 receiving yards. During JJAW’s entire two-year NFL career, he has 254.
But here’s thing: Arcega-Whiteside was better than Fulgham (and John Hightower) this summer.
Maybe the Eagles would have protected Arcega-Whiteside no matter what happened. But based on the merit of this summer, they had a real case for legitimately keeping him.
And it wasn’t even like JJAW had some magical camp because he didn’t. In fact, he had a better training camp going into the 2020 season. But if you didn’t know who they were, where they were drafted, what they did before, and you watched all 17 practices and three games this summer, you would have walked away from it thinking Arcega-Whiteside was the slightly better player.
It seems like the area where Arcega-Whiteside really made this team was on special teams. Never known as much of a special teamer, the former second-round pick worked hard in that area this summer.
He had a big touchdown catch against the Jets in the third preseason game, so it’s funny that the tackle he made on the ensuing kick might have counted for more.
“J.J. really did a good job this year on special teams,” head coach Nick Sirianni said, “and sometimes that's the thing at the end of the day that is the separator of what's happening on special teams and what he can do over there in Coach [Michael] Clay's room.”
Of course, the Eagles didn’t draft Arcega-Whiteside with the No. 57 pick back in 2019 to play special teams. And they didn’t draft him to be a big-bodied slot receiver. It’s disappointing to think that he was the final receiver to make the roster and could potentially be in danger as the roster continues to shuffle.
That’s just where JJAW’s career is right now. It’s not much, but he at least gets to stick around for a little while longer. He’s earned that.
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