Who's This Animal? Meeting J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

You're sitting in the comfort of your own home, a cup of coffee in one hand and your phone in the other. The morning is peaceful and serene. You're excited to read an interesting draft article from your favorite site.

Suddenly, you hear the sounds of a strumming guitar and crowing trumpets. They start out quiet, but quickly become louder -- maracas, ululations, shouts of joy join them. You walk to your window; bemused, interested. As you open your blinds, you see me, in a giant sombrero, leading a massive parade of salsa dancers and mariachi bands. As we draw closer to you, the words that I'm shouting through three separate megaphones become clear.


The redshirt junior receiver exploded onto the college football scene against San Diego State in Stanford's first game of the 2018 season. The 6-reception, 226-yard, and 3-touchdown performance is his best performance in over 20 games with the Cardinal -- young gunslingin' QB K.J. Costello is far more willing to toss the ball his way than Keller Chryst ever was.

Now, J-Jaw's game was dominant in the stat sheet -- but really, he wasn't asked to put the breadth of his ability on display. We didn't see notable route running, burst, or YAC ability from Arcega-Whiteside -- why not? It's not that he doesn't have the tools; it's that he didn't need 'em. Arcega-Whiteside has always been a downfield bully, and he simply abused the smaller Aztec corners.

The 80-yard pass speaks to Arcega-Whiteside's ability to catch away from his frame with strong mitts and great tracking. But that's just being bigger; faster; stronger. The two-point conversion shows you just how well the ex-basketball player can establish leverage early in the rep, to win the 'contested' catch by never allowing the corner to reach a point of contention.

This rep should not have surprised those who watched Arcega-Whiteside's tape. His box-out ability was clearly evident in the red zone. It's easy to criticize the lack of elevation on these reps, but there's no need to elevate and let the cornerback get involved in the catch point when you can just put him on your back and never allow him into the play in the first place.

These are 2017 clips, folks -- Costello threw the TCU ball, which was Arcega-Whiteside's FIRST hat trick game. You'll notice how early and intentionally J-Jaw gets his hips into the corner, to create space for the ball to arrive away from his frame, thus protecting it from a potential pass defensed. With pro basketball experience from both his mother and his father informing his athletic profile, Arcega-Whiteside brings singular spatial awareness to these jump-ball style throws. It's very difficult for corners to anticipate and defend.

Arcega-Whiteside has six touchdown receptions in his last two games (TCU, SDSU) over 11 catches, which is B-A-N-A-N-A-S. But don't let it mislead you: he's not just a red zone threat. His hand strength, quick locator, and ability to adjust (as discussed on the 80-yarder) also show up regularly on the boundary, as he racks up explosive plays for the Cardinal offense.

That's an excellent adjustment the football, but appreciate for a moment the gentle, never-called offensive pass interference that assists in the separation. This is high-quality, nuanced play. Arcega-Whiteside is always protecting the football -- even when it's in the air and hasn't nearly arrived to the catch point.

But again, I tell you -- this rep should not have surprised those who watched Arcega-Whiteside's tape. Want to see, I dunno, the exact same rep as the 80-yard touchdown?

How about a couple more sideline snags that require tough body positioning, great spatial awareness, and even include some solid route running?

We can even acknowledge that that back-shoulder rep against San Diego State showed a key component missing from my 2017 eval! J-Jaw did well to adjust to back-shoulder looks, but he hadn't hauled in a particular impressive ball until tonight.

I suppose I've well overextended my right to bang my own drum here -- forgive me for my inability to temper my excitement. As you can tell, I'm just a huge fan of this young man.

All things equal, Arcega-Whiteside's success in his first game -- admittedly against an inferior opponent -- shows us the value in concentrated preseason film work. We can anticipate these explosive performances and better understand a player's development from one season to the next. Finding the back-shoulder throw is a perfect example of such a benefit.

It also serves as a reminder that the preseason gas often goes to more traditional players: YAC mavens or jump-ball fiends or track stars who fill the highlight reel with plays we immediately understand to be high-quality. You didn't see J-Jaw on any college football hype tracks because his plays often require more attention and dissection to identify as truly special. Wrenching the ball from an outstretched corner is far more flashy than boxing him out while the ball is still in the air, yes -- but also, it's more familiar. We gravitate towards that.

Arcega-Whiteside presents a difficult evaluation, a difficult pro comparison to make, and even a difficult athletic profile to project -- all because of his unique background and playing style. But I've been drinking the Kool-Aid since I first laid on eyes on his tape. It all comes back to his ability to win downfield with physicality, positioning, and early recognition. He might not be traditional, but I think that just makes him special.

J-Jaw is a bully, and the gridiron is his playground. Get out of the way or get embarrassed.

Written By:

Benjamin Solak

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Deputy Editor of Bleeding Green Nation. Undergrad at UChicago.