The next in the series of prospect profile for the Tennessee Titans: JJ Arcega-Whiteside
Why do the Titans need a receiver like Arcega-Whiteside?
Red Zone efficiency, because they don’t have the jump ball specialist near the end zone for one on one looks. Last year, the Titans were 23rd in red zone efficiency, albeit a healthy Delanie Walker will cure some of those issues. The Titans present a match up problem for defenses because they have a unique blend of weapons.
Derrick Henry: A powerful running back that likes to cut outside and stiff arm defensive backs.
Marcus Mariota: An accurate QB, who is a major threat to run the ball.
Right off the bat, the defense has to worry about two running threats from the backfield, and both tend to run around the edges. Contrary to what his size would have you believe, Henry is much more comfortable running to the edges and overpowering defensive backs, and Mariota is one of the fastest QBs in the game.
Delanie Walker: His injury last year might have been the biggest blow to the offense, because an RPO based offense relies heavily on tight ends. I covered it in the Delanie Walker extension article (https://anatomyoftitans.com/2018/07/delaniewalkerextension/) as to why they were so eager to sign him. Essentially it boils down to offensive line blocking. In college, the offensive line is allowed to blow up to 3 yards down the field on a passing play. In the NFL, the yardage down the field is limited to only 1 yard down the field. On passing plays, the offensive line generally sits back and plugs holes, while on running plays they push forward to create holes. On RPOs, the issue is the 1 yard rule for lineman, because once past that, they are considered ineligible receivers down the field. So how is the problem solved? Tight ends. They are eligible receivers but also (theoretically) good blockers, which means they can be aggressive on the edge for a running play (and remember, Henry loves the edge) or run down the field in a quick passing set up. Walker being removed from that role, completely changed the offensive outlook for the Titans.
Corey Davis: At the risk of getting some criticism, I don’t think Davis is a No. 1 receiver in the league. He’s a good No. 2, but he doesn’t win consistently enough to be a No. 1. He’s a very good No. 2.
Corey Davis: 65 receptions, 891 yards, 4 TDs, 58% catch rate
Player A: 66 receptions, 872 yards, 4 TDs, 61% catch rate
Who is Player A? Sterling Shepard.
They are both very good No. 2 options, but not a No. 1 option in an offense.
Adam Humphries: He thrived with the Bucs, but played across Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, and OJ Howard. In this case, Evans is the No. 1, Jackson/Godwin (interchangeable as No. 2), and Howard/Brate as the TE receiving threat. First of all, that was a loaded offense and Ryan Fitzpatrick should thank the GM for getting him another contract. The Titans can replicate the No. 2 option, with Davis to replace Godwin, and Walker can play the Howard/Brate role. However, the No. 1 option played by Evans can’t be replicated because a receiver that good won’t make it to 19. However, a receiver that can pose a similar threat in the red zone, while possessing high upside can still be had in the second round.
As usual, we’ll start with some physical comparisons, but he didn’t do many of the drills, so stats are hard to compile.
Arcega-Whiteside: 6’2”, 225lbs, 33.25 arm length, 9.5” hand size, 4.49 40 yard dash
Player A: 6’3”, 224lbs, 33.25 arm length, 10” hand size, 4.52 40 yard dash
Final season in college:
Arcega-Whitesode: 63 receptions, 1059 yards, 14 TD, 23.2% of team’s receptions, 48.2% of team’s TDs
Player A: 42 receptions, 714 yards, 7 TDs, 13.4% of team’s receptions, 30.4% of team’s TDs
Who is Player A?
Josh Gordon. However, before everyone starts to get angry, a few caveats. One, Gordon played with Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, which meant the ball was spread out away from him. He did get kicked off the team, but did play in 13 games in his final season, although he was just a sophomore, while Arcega-Whiteside is a senior. Gordon did run the vertical and broad jumps and placed in the 57th and 56th percentile respectively, therefore he didn’t show otherworldly skills in those events. Arcega-Whiteside didn’t participate in those events, so I’d venture a guess and say he didn’t test well in training for those events, but it’s hard to tell. Furthermore, there is YouTube evidence of him running other drills at his pro-day, but the timing hasn’t been posted on any of the usual websites.
Let’s break down some tape:
This is a great reception, even though it looks like an easy completion. Notice how Whiteside is setting up this route by approaching the defender straight on, showing stutter moves. He doesn’t want the defender to lean one way or another at the start. The major point for Whiteside here is prevent the defender from turning his hips towards the inside, which would negate this route. Once he gets adequately down field, Whiteside cuts to the outside and you can see the hips of the defender turn to the outside as well. While the camera angle doesn’t show it, you can safely assume Whiteside then cut back inside across the defender to be wide open on this curl route. The throw is a bit off because the QB is being hit as he throws, but Whiteside makes a great adjustment and reels it in. This play is mostly impressive for how he’s setting up the defender for the route, and his adjustment to the pass. He has the nuances of route set up down fairly well, although his set up lags at times because he slows down too much to sell it. However, that’s something that can be corrected in the NFL as the important aspect is understanding how to manipulate the hips of defenders.
This would be considered a negative for him, but I wanted to highlight what I was talking about with his need to slow down to try and manipulate the hips of the defender. You can see him clearly decelerating here to put moves on the defender, but the cornerback is playing too far back to have an effect. Essentially, he wants the defender to turn his hips to the inside, so Whiteside can run by on the outside, but it’s not effective with this large of a gap between them. He draws a pass interference penalty on the play, but that’s mainly because the defensive back seems clueless on how to defend 50/50 passes. This is where Whiteside needs to adjust his route to attack vertically, and use speed instead of misdirection. Since Whiteside does get compared to power forward in basketball, I’ll use basketball terminology. Whiteside, at times, seems to be the player that has a great crossover move. However, he’s overly reliant on the crossover at times, when a straight cut to the basket is the best option. He doesn’t realize that a great crossover doesn’t work all the time, because the defense doesn’t have to react to move unless they are standing close to him. On this play, if Whiteside attacks the middle of the field like he’s running a post, then the defender would flip his hips and he’d get the exact result he was seeking for a cut outside.
This play is about as well covered as you can get from the defender, yet Whiteside comes down with the touchdown. I want you to notice his legs and hips on the play, because that’s why he gets this touchdown. Similar to a rebounder, he’s blocking out the defender with his legs and holding his ground. He’s using his lower body leverage until the last second, where he lunges at the ball. You’ll hear the term “he threw the ball where only his receiver could make a play on it” with QBs all the time, and this is a similar situation. However, in this case, the QB threw it where it’s a 50/50 ball all the way, so he didn’t accomplish anything special. Since Whiteside is using his leverage and planting his foot in the ground to hold up the defender, and then lunge towards the ball, the defender doesn’t have a direct shot at the ball. Either Whiteside will catch this ball, or it will fall incomplete because he turned a situation where the defender was in the perfect spot, and turned the odds in his favor because he’s adept at boxing out. This is exactly what you want in the red zone.
This is back to where the crossover analogy works in his favor, as you can see him manipulate the defender on this outside release. The ball isn’t thrown to him, and the view doesn’t follow him down the field. The defender has inside leverage, with his hips turned to the outside on this play, so he’s perfectly in position to turn and run down the sidelines with Whiteside. However, the leg jab to the inside completely freezes the defender for a split second, which allows Whiteside enough time to run right by the defensive back. You can briefly see that Whiteside is going to have at least a 1-2 yard separation down the field here, albeit the QB chooses a different route.
This play probably encapsulates both the upside and dangers with Arcega-Whiteside. The good part is obviously him scoring a TD here against good coverage. Notice how he uses his legs and hips to position himself, rather than pushing off with his hands. He’s using his legs to block off the defender and prevent him from going after the ball. On this play, the defender is overwhelmed and falls down, so it’s a fairly easy catch. The main takeaway is that, he’s very adept at controlling defenders at the point of attack, without using obvious push-offs that will get called for penalties. The bad part of the play is the route. This is essentially just backyard football, with a straight go route, looking back early, and then just out muscling your defender to the ball. In terms of pure route skills, there isn’t much shown here, which is concerning because he will have to run more technical routes in the NFL, unless he’s drafted by a select few teams like Green Bay.
This is staying on the theme of what he needs to work on, because he rounds off this route. He doesn’t cut off this out route crisply, and in an effort to maintain speed rounds it off, which means his projected path is now further down the field. The NFL tests for this at the combine with the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttles to see how well you can change directions. It’s a bit alarming that Arcega-Whiteside did not participate in those drills.
The play highlights the speed of Arcega-Whiteside as he runs by the cornerback on a go route down the field. If this ball was thrown better, it’s an easy touchdown as he had a 2 yard cushion on the defensive back. The defender in this case is Iman Marshall, who ran a 4.53 forty yard dash at the combine. There isn’t much else to highlight, I just wanted to show film where Arcega-Whiteside displays his speed.
This play has been referenced on pretty much any scouting report you see for Arcega-Whiteside, and it showcases his ability to release at the line of scrimmage. He does the quick jab step to the outside with his foot, before cutting back and exploding down the field right by the defender. This release bodes well for his ability to beat man coverage in the NFL, especially if he can create inside leverage akin to this play. As usual, the thing to notice is how he attacks the defender and makes the move as late as possible to control the hips of the cornerback. Once he has inside leverage with his size advantage, this is a high percentage throw.
This is another jump ball route because it’s just designed to be a one on one match up. Notice how late the ball is for this pass, because it’s thrown with a jump ball as the only intention. The main takeaway here is how Arcega-Whiteside high points the ball for the touchdown. However, I want you to notice his feet more than the hands, because he’s getting his leverage against the defender through his legwork. He’s leaning his hips into the defender, and then moving the legs further into the endzone, thus moving the defender further down the field. He isn’t primarily using his hands to create separation, but rather his feet, which will rarely get called for pass interference. Instead of pushing off, he’s using his hands to contain the hands of the defender so he has a clear path to the ball when it’s time to leap. This is almost textbook blocking out in basketball, and you can clearly see how it translates to football field.
This one is here to show his yards after the catch ability and how he can show speed running down the field. He’s not going to juke too many defenders in the open field, but he can flat out over-power them like Derrick Henry against the Jaguars.
He’s in the slot, to the top of the screen, and I added this here to show his potential route running prowess. Notice how the stutter to the outside completely leaves the defender in the dust, and allows for an easy completion. I think he’s raw with some cuts, especially with out routes, but he definitely has potential to be a monster on post routes.
The last one here is to show his ability to control the body on a sideline pass. The defender plays this back shoulder pass about as well as you can, yet Arcega-Whiteside still comes down with the catch. On this play, it’s his arm extension that is impressive because he slightly pushes him away without being blatant. You see this often with DeAndre Hopkins, and how he creates separation at the last second with slight extensions. I’m not saying Arcega-Whiteside is on the same level as Hopkins in boxing players out, but he definitely shows the skills to be a winner on most 50/50 passes.
- Elite level skills in positioning for the ball, uses hip to box out defenders
- Speed is very good for size
- Impressive TD numbers in a non-prolific passing game
- Good blocker, especially with his size
- Hands catcher, and catches the ball away from his body
- Good release on routes
- Agility is lacking, albeit expected for his size
- Routes aren’t crisp and rely heavily on box outs
- Initiates contact, which could lead to penalties
Pro-Comparison: Mike Williams
Overall, I love Arcega-Whiteside’s potential because he has physical upside coupled with instant production. If he were to be drafted by the Titans, he would instantly become the best red zone threat for the team. He has the speed and athleticism to develop further as a receiver, especially with his ability to make cuts. While I used Josh Gordon as an example to showcase his athletic profile, my closest comparison is Mike Williams (Chargers). They both have exceptional ability to snag the ball at its high point, while not being a extremely agile. While Williams was beset by injuries in his first year, he did score 7 touchdowns last year, and will be a red zone nightmare for defenses. The Chargers were 28th in red zone efficiency the year before, and moved all the way up to 8th, which shows the type of impact that Williams has on the offense.
The Titans should look into Arcega-Whiteside with the 51st overall pick because he fits in perfectly on the team. He has high potential to be a poor man’s Mike Evans type, while still contributing from day 1. He has the potential to transform the red zone struggles, and terrorize one on one matchups because he’s so adept at boxing defenders away from the ball. Corey Davis and Adam Humphries have more space to work in the intermediate area, while also providing a blocking option on runs outside. The added blocking aspect is extra beneficial to the Titans, because it goes back to Derrick Henry being an outside runner. It also helps that the team can set up Walker as a blocker on one end, and Arcega-Whiteside on the other, and create issues for the defense.
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