INDIANAPOLIS — J.J. Arcega-Whiteside comes from a basketball family.
And while he chose to pursue a different sport than the one his mother, father and uncles all played at an elite level overseas, his hoops background helped the Stanford product develop into perhaps the best jump-ball receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft class.
Born in Spain to two professional basketball players, Arcega-Whiteside is a master of the post-up, using his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame to routinely body smaller, less physical cornerbacks. According to Pro Football Focus, he hauled in 19 contested catches as a senior in 2018, the most of any draft-eligible wideout.
“Practicing it, we would have two or three guys stand in the spot that I was supposed to run to and just grab me,” Arcega-Whiteside said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “(We’d) have (quarterback K.J. Costello) throw it right in the spot and just have me run through their arms, jump up through their arms and catch the ball. We had fun with it during practice, and that’s why we had the results we did in the game.”
Arcega-Whiteside was a red-zone menace for the Cardinal. Twenty-two of his 28 collegiate touchdown catches came on plays run inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Twelve were inside the 10.
Overall, he caught 14 touchdown passes last season — tied for third-most in FBS — including three-score performances against San Diego State and UCLA. He also ranked third in the Pac-12 with 1,059 receiving yards on 63 catches.
“When that ball is in the air, you just got to go up and get it,” said Arcega-Whiteside, who moved from Spain to South Carolina when he was 6 years old and starred on the hardwood in high school. “You can have a great post-up, but at the same time, if you’re not physical at your catch point, you’re not going to come down with it. Same thing with running routes.
“If the DB is on your landmark, you have to be physical with him. Step on his toes, put a body on him, push off and get open.”
Arcega-Whiteside’s combo of strength, body control and physicality has draft evaluators intrigued. He’s currently projected as a Day 2 pick. And while most of his memorable highlights at Stanford came on fades and go routes, he actually possesses solid route-running ability and the versatility to line up either outside or in the slot.
“There’s not a route in the playbook that you can tell me to run and I won’t be able to run it,” he said.
Since Arcega-Whiteside did not participate in the workout portion of the combine, it’s difficult at this point to judge whether he’d fit the New England Patriots’ athletic profile.
The Patriots did meet with him in Indy, however — a lengthy, informal interview that included film work — and could benefit from adding a receiver who’s adept at catching passes in traffic. Impending free agents Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett struggled to do so effectively in 2018, and even superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski was not the red-zone weapon he had been in years past.
Big changes could be coming to New England’s receiving corps, which currently has just Julian Edelman, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson and Matthew Slater under contract for the upcoming season. Arcega-Whiteside’s name is one to keep in mind as draft night approaches.
Thumbnail photo via Sergio Estrada/USA TODAY Sports Images