Wish Granted: D'Wayne Eskridge Ready to Be 'Explosive and Dynamic' Playmaker For Seahawks
BATTLE CREEK, MI - While the NFL Draft often is viewed as an unpredictable crapshoot, sometimes, there are obvious team and player fits that are meant to be.
For Western Michigan receiver D'Wayne Eskridge, throughout the pre-draft process, the Seahawks were always the preferred destination. Before this weekend's festivities in Cleveland kicked off, he texted a close friend saying he wanted to land in Seattle, and as the team's 56th overall pick approached late in the second round on Friday, he had a positive feeling he would be their selection.
Sure enough, after the Seahawks called around looking to trade down initially, general manager John Schneider turned in the card and picked Eskridge, adding the speedy threat to an offense already featuring Pro Bowlers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the outside. His dream had now become a reality.
"I had a lot of great interviews with pretty much all the staff, so just going through it, they made me feel more comfortable when it comes to being taken care of when I come to Seattle," Eskridge told reporters via Zoom. "I know I can just come there and get better, wouldn't have to worry about too much of the non-sense. I felt that energy directly, so it's just great to be able to go into something that's already written... I'm definitely grateful for it."
Like many of the prospects hoping to hear their name called at the annual first-year player's draft, Eskridge has taken an unconventional path to the NFL to become the newest member of the Seahawks.
Born in Winona, Mississippi, Eskridge always felt the need for speed, whether chasing after rabbits or riding BMX bikes up and down steep hills. With his mother hoping to provide better opportunities for him and his siblings, they made the move north to Bluffton, Indiana, a tiny community east of Fort Wayne, when he was in elementary school.
Thanks in part to his efforts chasing down - and often catching - those aforementioned bunnies during his youth, he evolved into a two-sport star in high school and nobody could keep pace with the compact dynamo. Capturing three state titles as a sprinter in track and earning "Mr. Track and Field" recognition in 2016, he also received Honorable Mention All-State honors as a running back on the gridiron.
Despite this success, however, Eskridge received just two scholarship offers from Ball State and Western Michigan. Coming from a high school with an enrollment under 500 total students and viewed as too small at 5-foot-9, he wound up committing to the Broncos as an unheralded recruit.
But Eskridge wasn't deterred by the lack of interest. Nobody in his family had ever gone to college, let alone receive a scholarship to play football for an FBS school. He wanted to pave the way and provide inspiration for his younger siblings and others around him to be able to pursue their own dreams.
"It's crazy. I wouldn't want it any other way," Eskridge remarked when reflecting on his journey to Seattle. "The things I had to face and not be able to run from, that's definitely an absolute blessing that I made it through all of the obstacles that I did, so I'm just thanking the man above for all he's provided me with. It's just the beginning now, I'm gonna keep it going for all the guys and girls to be inspired from little old Bluffton, Indiana - and all the towns in Fort Wayne - to do what they want to do because all it takes is a little hard work and dedication and sacrifice."
Upon his arrival in Kalamazoo, Eskridge bounced back and forth between receiver and cornerback as injuries and transfers plagued the program. Some scouts wanted to see him on defense believing it would be his best path to the pros and as the consummate team player, he willingly played wherever the Broncos needed him to. This experience helped Eskridge better understand the nuances of playing receiver and how to attack opposing cornerbacks as a route runner.
But while he was frustrated by missing most of the 2019 season as a result, a broken clavicle proved to be a blessing in disguise for Eskridge. He indicated the injury made him appreciate the game more during his time on the sidelines and after applying for a redshirt year, he returned with a vengeance as one of the nation's premier all-around playmakers in 2020.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic limited the MAC conference to a six-game schedule, Eskridge torched opponents as a receiver, runner, and kick return extraordinaire, leading all FBS players with 213 all-purpose yards per game. He racked up 768 receiving yards on just 33 receptions, scoring three touchdowns of at least 72 yards and averaging over 24 yards per catch. Per Sports Info Solutions, more than half of his total yardage came after the catch, showing he wasn't just a deep threat either.
The ability to generate big plays in a variety of ways stood out to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who indicated his versatility will be beneficial both in the passing game and the run game in new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's scheme.
“We can hand him the football,” Carroll said. “We can flip it to him. We can do some things behind the line of scrimmage. He’s run very effectively on reverses and stuff like that. The returns show that as well. We were looking for a receiver that would have all of that versatility, and he was an exciting one to get.”
Lauding him for his physicality and coachability, Carroll also expects Eskridge to contribute on special teams as not only a return specialist, but potentially as a gunner on punt coverage as well for the Seahawks.
Ready to "bring a whole 'nother juice" to Seattle's receiving corps, Eskridge will now compete against the likes of Freddie Swain, Penny Hart, and John Ursua for the No. 3 receiver spot. Not surprisingly, Carroll wasn't ready to give him the job on draft night. Regardless of draft position, the "Always Compete" applies to everyone and he will have to earn snaps on the practice field.
But while he has the utmost respect for Metcalf and Lockett and looks forward to playing with them, Eskridge certainly doesn't suffer from a shortage of confidence and he's eager to get to work and make a name for himself. After running a sub-4.40 40-yard dash at his pro day, he told reporters he would bet on himself in a foot race against Metcalf, creating a fun draft weekend storyline.
“I’m also a dog,” Eskridge said. “I feel like I’ll be able to fit in pretty good and take it to another level and do what I’m paid to do now.”
Exhibiting the type of competitiveness and drive the franchise covets, Eskridge will battle for playing time right away on offense and special teams. It remains to be seen exactly how Waldron will utilize his unique skill set, but he should receive ample opportunities to emerge as an immediate contributor as a rookie for the Seahawks.
Considering the humble beginnings from which he came from to reach this point, Eskridge couldn't have asked for a better landing spot with the team he wanted to play for all along. Some things are just meant to be.