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JJ Arcega-Whiteside - 2020 Fantasy Football Sleeper

As so often is the tradition with second-year receivers who fail to make a big splash in their rookie years, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside has quickly become old and un-exciting news. Arcega-Whiteside was a trendy sleeper pick going into the 2019 season after the Eagles drafted him with a second-round pick.

The Eagles were extremely short-handed at wide receiver at the time and offered an extremely favorable landing spot given head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive acumen and Carson Wentz’s need for reliable targets. Unfortunately, Arcega-Whiteside struggled to get consistent snaps in 2019 and earned just 22 targets over the season, catching 10 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

There’s still reason to believe Arcega-Whiteside could be a significant fantasy contributor and soon. All the reasons we had to believe in him last year still mostly exist this year. The Eagles are in need of playmakers at wide receiver. Will JJAW be the one to deliver this season?

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!


2019 Foot Injury

Arcega-Whiteside was plagued with a foot injury for much of last season. Despite playing in all 16 of the Eagles’ games, he certainly wasn’t 100% for a number of them. In an interview from this past May, he even stated that he had trouble walking at times during the season.

A foot injury is a particularly alarming one for a rookie wide receiver. Especially one that makes even walking difficult at times. In order to excel in the NFL, Arcega-Whiteside is going to need to have elite footwork and the ability to get a clean break off the line. He’s a physical receiver who won’t be blowing by any cornerbacks, but will instead need to win positioning battles, which largely begin with precise footwork.

It’s hard to know exactly how much of his struggles in 2019 we can attribute to the injury, but the more slack you give him, the more potential you can start to see for a 2020 bounce-back.


Post-Bye 2019 Focus

After the Eagles came out of their Week 10 bye in 2019, there was a clear focus to get Arcega-Whiteside involved. He hadn’t earned a single target in the team’s previous six games before the bye, but he had a 29-yard reception on his only target in Week 11 and was then targeted five times in Week 12, reeling in two catches for 43 yards. His first and only touchdown of the season came in the following week.

The Eagles were without Alshon Jeffery in Week 11 and Week 12 after Jeffery had been the team’s leading receiver from the wide receiver position in the first half of the year. Jeffery’s absence helped open up a small window of opportunity for Arcega-Whiteside, but it closed quickly when Jeffery returned and earned a whopping 16 targets in Week 13.

All in all, despite the disappointing rookie campaign, Arcega-Whiteside still wrapped up the 2019 season averaging a sturdy 16.9 yards per reception. When he came down with the ball, he was making big plays.


2020 Opportunity

The Eagles wide receiver depth chart entering 2020 looks shockingly similar to how it did last year. Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson return as the two veterans of the group. There are just two primary differences. First, the team lost Nelson Agholor to the Las Vegas Raiders. Second, and probably more notably, the team selected Jalen Reagor with their first-round pick, 21st overall, in this year’s draft.

While the drafting of Reagor may seem like an ominous sign for Arcega-Whiteside, it really shouldn’t be. Reagor is a speed receiver who should be valuable in a number of ways to the offense, stretching defenses and providing an option for quick dump-off plays. His style of play is a stark contrast to the physical play of Arcega-Whiteside. The two could very much form a strong duo for the team in the coming years if they can develop properly.

Jeffery had foot surgery himself in this past December. He was placed on the PUP list in July this year and there’s a solid chance he won’t be ready by the start of the season, which should give Arcega-Whiteside more opportunities in camp to run as the X receiver with the first team. Keep an eye out for any updates on his progress with the first team. Positive progress could lead to him trending back onto the sleeper radar soon.


Non-Existent ADP

Identifying the best fantasy sleeper isn’t exclusively about tracking down the sleeper who is going to have the biggest individual season. It’s also about finding which sleeper will outperform their draft value by the largest margin. So while other potential wide receiver sleepers like Diontae Johnson or Darius Slayton may certainly outperform Arcega-Whiteside, those guys are going to cost you a pick somewhere around the 9th or 10th round, as opposed to Arcega-Whiteside, who is widely going undrafted in fantasy leagues at this point.

He can be your last round pick or even potentially an undrafted pickup if you lose someone to injury leading up to the season. The one positive from Arcega-Whiteside’s dreadful rookie campaign is that it is heavily built into his draft stock this year. Many fantasy owners are too fearful for a repeat season from Arcega-Whiteside, which opens the door to him becoming a potentially massive steal.


2020 Expectations

There are a wide, wide range of possible scenarios for Arcega-Whiteside in 2020, with the worst-case scenario of course being basically a repeat of his rookie season. With late-round picks, the possibility of a dud season is always on the table. However, if Arcega-Whiteside is able to stay healthy and Jeffery continues his long-proven track record of hobbling through seasons, we could very well see a much more involved and productive player out of Arcega-Whiteside this year.

Carson Wentz threw for 4,063 yards and 27 touchdowns last year. With healthier and more reliable receivers, he could easily end up closer to 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. A massive amount of Wentz’s production in 2019 went through the tight end position. The Eagles got a combined 146 receptions, 1,523 yards, and 11 touchdowns out of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. It’s extremely rare to see reliance like that on a tight end, so it’s likely that those numbers go down, particularly for the No. 2 tight end Goedert, who contributed 58 receptions, 607 yards, and five touchdowns.

Jeffery, meanwhile, finished the 2019 season with 43 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns. With a bigger season from Wentz and the likelihood of less production from Goedert and the recovering Jeffery, a lot of potential yardage enters the equation.

Reagor will certainly figure into that equation but may be more likely to soak up and improve upon the vacated 39 receptions, 363 yards, and three touchdowns of Agholor. All in all, there’s certainly room for both Arcega-Whiteside and Reagor to deliver a capable WR3 type of season.

Arcega-Whiteside should be able to make a number of long-yardage plays while becoming a focus of the team’s red-zone approach. He’s very able to finish the year with similar totals to Goedert last year, something in the ballpark of 50 catches for 600 yards and five touchdowns. Overall, he should be slightly more attractive in non-PPR leagues. His best-case scenario could offer something even better than that, but we’ll wait for more lofty predictions until we start to see him assert himself more in the preseason.

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