The night before the Eagles played the Jets, head coach Nick Sirianni as a motivational tactic shared some examples of players in the past who had made rosters based on a preseason finale.
It’s hard to imagine any of those players were second-round picks.
But after two disappointing NFL seasons, that’s exactly the situation J.J. Arcega-Whiteside found himself in on Friday night. Forget living up to expectations as a high draft pick, forget becoming a star. All JJAW was trying to do was make the club.
He had a good night.
“I’m not going to lie. It felt good,” he said. “But at the same time, you can’t look in the past. I mean, you just gotta take it day by day. The moment you start looking too much into the past, you start looking too much into the future, you miss your opportunity where you’re at today. That’s just kind of been my mentality. Whatever happened yesterday, whatever happens tomorrow, be focused and be present."
There were some highs and lows for Arcega-Whiteside this summer. The former No. 57 pick from 2019 had moments where he shined but he didn’t have nearly the training camp he did a year ago. But in the 31-31 tie to cap the 2021 preseason, Arcega-Whiteside showed up.
He finished with two catches for 57 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown catch from Joe Flacco on a broken play late in the second quarter. Arcega-Whiteside read what his QB was telling him, cut up field, caught a pass over one defender and ran through another. It was a great play.
“I was just really, really happy that Joe gave me a chance to go out there and make a play, especially at a time when the team needed it right before halftime, put some points up on the board,” he said. “I was just happy that he trusted me and I was just happy obviously that I came down and did it, was able to do it for the team.”
Of course, great plays have been few and far between for Arcega-Whiteside, which is why he finds himself in this predicament, on the verge of losing his roster spot just a few years after getting drafted in the second round.
With final cuts looming on Tuesday, there’s no guarantee he’ll be on the team.
The rest of us look at Arcega-Whiteside as a failed second-round draft pick but Nick Sirianni shouldn’t. He just looks at JJAW as one of a few receivers — along with Travis Fulgham, John Hightower and Andre Patton — fighting for a roster spot.
Because of that, in a weird way, Arcega-Whiteside might have helped his cause more after his touchdown. Because on the kickoff team, he had a special teams tackle on the ensuing kick. Never known for his special teams ability, JJAW played 10 snaps on Friday night, showing at least a little improvement and added versatility.
None of this is why the Eagles drafted him.
The Eagles took JJAW out of Stanford to be a big-bodied, jump-ball winning, touchdown-scoring machine. If he’s with the Eagles in 2021, it’ll be as a big slot, who can sometimes play outside and who did just enough on special teams to stick around. That’s just where he is right now.
Did he do enough this summer to keep his job?
“I really haven’t had time to reflect on the past and the last three or four weeks,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “Just because I try to just, day by day, get better every day, do what I can to help this team win games and everything else is out of my control.”
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