Former Saints WR Paved Path To Success For Arcega-Whiteside

Photo: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, great, we've reached the point of the season where the guy who doesn't like pro player comparisons tells us his pro player comparisons.

Whoa, whoa. Ok, so maybe I'm not passing out pro comparisons every year like a broken down ice cream truck on a hot summer day, but I still believe they have some value, if you use them correctly.

Pro comparisons can get out of hand quick. In a social media scouting age, there are a lot of voices and opinions on prospects. Two easy ways to get your voice noticed more is to either be the first one to bring a prospect and what they do well to light or, alternatively, you could just go more and more crazy, upping the ante on how successful you think a player may be in the NFL. To aid that second part, I've seen some crazy comparisons over the years. People comparing college kids who have never played a down in the NFL to first ballot Hall of Famers is surely a way to get your opinion on a player noticed -- but noticed for the wrong reasons is usually not a good thing.

But sometimes even the craziest comparisons aren't too far off, they're just not communicated properly -- that tends to happen in the character-limit world of Twitter that we live in. Rather than comp players to other players as whole 1-to-1 examples, comparing traits and where a college player might "win" tends to be portrayed much better than just saying names.

The reason why we even do player comparisons is for visualization. If you can say something like, "this running back may be small, but he is so agile and quick. He's like Ameer Abdullah." That helps you visualize where you could see him having success in the NFL and in what type of role. Another would be when people compared quarterback Jameis Winston to Brett Favre coming out of college. Both are gunslinger quarterbacks who don't really think much of consequences when it comes to risking the biscuit with an eye for the prize. The comparison of the names was in the style, not the accolades. Much more goes into the success of a player than just his individual style or ability. That's why comparing traits is a much better way to portray your thoughts on how a prospect could translate rather than just saying "this wide receiver reminds me of Calvin Johnson," or other egregious bars to sets as the standard.

Sticking with the receiver position, though, my first comparison of the year is one that stuck out to me soon after I first saw this player on tape. The college player is Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and I believe the pro comparison for him and the path of how he can be successful with his certain size and skills in the NFL was paved by New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston.

At the Combine, Colston came in at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. Stanford lists Arcega-Whiteside at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. Some sites I've read have Arcega-Whiteside at 6-foot-2, but in most of the recruiting profiles I've seen he's listed as 6-foot-3, as well, so I think if he's under that at the Combine, it will be barely under. So the size of both of these guys check out in terms of comparisons on what you can do with a body type.

Colston ran a 4.54 40-yard dash, and I think Arcega-Whiteside will be right around there, maybe a little slower. Colston also jumped 37 inches in the vertical jump and just over 10-feet in the broad jump. I don't think Arcega-Whiteside will hit those numbers, but I don't expect them to be too much lower.

As a three-year starter at Hofstra, Colston finished his four-year career with 182 receptions for 2,834 yards and 18 touchdowns. In three seasons of work, with two as a starter, Arcega-Whiteside has recorded 132 catches for 2,129 yards and 28 touchdowns. Another season as a starter and his numbers would have surpassed Colston's in every area.

So the size is pretty much exactly the same, the athleticism nods to Colston and the production tips in favor of Arcega-Whiteside.

Now let's get into the real evidence of comparison: the tape.

Now, let's just get this out of the way and say that Colston played most of his entire career with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Drew Brees and Colston connected for 76 touchdown passes during their decade together in New Orleans, and helped the Saints capture their first Super Bowl victory in 2009.

One of the aspects of Colston's game that made him Brees' go-to target again and again was Colston's ability to box out smaller defenders. When people talk about receivers using their size advantage, they often only talk about arm length and wingspan, but you can also use overall size, too.

While Colston was not the best separator in terms of foot speed and quickness, he was good at separating using his body.

This trait is Arcega-Whiteside's calling card.

JJAW -- I'm just going to start using that abbreviation, his name is too long -- is a master at using his whole body to his advantage, and that comes with more that just long arms. I know the basketball comparisons with big wide receivers have been beaten to death over the year,s but JJAW does it as good as anyone I've seen -- both of his parents played basketball professionally in Europe.

When you're excellent at boxing out and you can pair that with strong hands attached to fully extended arms, you leave defender helpless to try to defend passes without pass interference. That's getting the most out of every bit of your size, and Arcega-Whiteside does that multiple times in every game I've watched.

In addition to just having the size, one of the more underrated traits Colston consistently displayed throughout his career, at least from my eyes at a distance, was his savviness to also get away with contact himself. When you can't separate with your feet, separation for throwing windows has to come in other ways.

As shown in the clip above, Colston probably got away with a push off there. But when you're technical with your craft and you're smooth in how you make contact, refs can let even bigger receivers get away with what is really pass interference, by the book.

Arcega-Whiteside has that same sort of savviness to his game, and he really developed it even more in 2018.

2018 was a big leap for JJAW in a lot of ways. He really shored up his catching ability and some of the questionable drops he had in 2017, and with an even big emphasis role on offense, he seemed up to the task in every way. With his increased experience, he has shown an even higher comfort level for the position.

Just because they're big boy by nature (now THAT is the name of a 2000s R&B group) doesn't mean they can't beat you deep every now and then.

This is, though, the biggest difference I see in Colston and Arcega-Whiteside.

Though Arcega-Whiteside does have some vertical routes that he wins, his separation doesn't look as good at the college level as Colston made it look at the NFL level. This is where the Combine will determine just how high JJAW will be on my board. Even if your best trait can thrive without speed, certain usage in an offense will be determined by how fast you can run/how quickly you can get in and out of routes. Where they line you up on the field, for example.

Limited acceleration will hurt JJAW, if it is poor.

But the area in which Colston came up biggest, and the reason why he had the long, successful career he did, was in his ability to bring all of that size and talent into the most important area of the football field: the red zone.

Scoring in the red zone is what makes and breaks offensive play callers' careers. How they perform and create windows of scoring in a place where space is limited is a major deciding factor in wins and losses.

Colston certainly made his impact there.

When it comes to that whole "using your size" thing, Colston did his best work when six points were up for grabs. He was a determined wide receiver who was able to separate, even if only slightly, with size using his entire body.

If you show me a way that Marques Colston best won in the NFL, I bet I could show you a JJ Arcega-Whiteside catch to match it.

Size, production and skill all line up for Acrega-Whiteside to potentially follow the path of success Colston did. Certainly, for any wide receiver, landing spot and the quarterback they're with will go a long way in determining the longevity and consistency of such success. The Combine will be big for JJAW in terms of where he may get drafted. As stated before, I don't think he'll put up quite the athletic numbers Colston did, but if they're close, I'm all in.

Scoring in the red zone and being reliable through man coverage on third down will forever be valuable at the next level. For years Colston did it as well as any wide receiver. Arcega-Whiteside may have the recipe to do the same.

Written By:

Trevor Sikkema

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast.

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