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Rookie Impact: The short and long term outlook for D’Wayne Eskridge

Western Michigan v Northwestern Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

When the Seattle Seahawks were on the clock on Friday, there were a number of players available who were mocked/projected/destined to go higher than D’Wayne Eskridge. Of course, Carroll and Schneider did what they do best: they eschewed conventional wisdom and used their selection to draft a player they were high on. And, if the Twitterverse is to be believed, they weren’t the only ones who had eyes on him. But if D’Wayne really is the kind of player they felt they couldn’t pass on at 56, what does that mean for his year one expectations? Being the de facto first selection for the Hawks, Eskridge may carry heightened expectations to contribute early, at least from the perspective of us fans. But with great expectations comes great disappointments (unless your name is DK Metcalf). So rather than simply hope that the Western Michigan standout is the second coming of Tyler Lockett, this article will instead take a historical look at how highly drafted receivers have performed in the Carroll/Schneider era to create a baseline for expectations in year one. To start out, let’s take a look at who Eskridge will be competing against to begin the season.

The Competition

The Seahawks’ roster currently features three wideouts who played significant snaps last season — Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, and Freddie Swain. Of these three, only the former two have legit, multi-year starting experience, although Swain did make one start in 2020. Beyond them, John Ursua and Penny Hart are the only other players who have any on field experience for Seattle, combining for a grand total of twenty-nine snaps and two catches over the past two years. Both are talented, with Hart drawing praise for his performance in 2020 and Ursua remaining an intriguing player after putting together a great career in Hawaii. If Eskridge wants to get on the field early next season, he will need to show that he can be an immediate step up from these latter two players as an offensive weapon. Otherwise, he will need to make his mark on special teams, where he can certainly be a valuable contributor as well. In addition to the above mentioned players, the Seahawks also have a few undrafted free agents rounding out the roster (more on those guys later).

The History

Of the highly drafted receivers who have come through Seattle in the last decade, only Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf started at least half of the games in their rookie season, and they — along with Freddie Swain — were the only ones to score multiple touchdowns along the way. Below is a chart with some basic performance and playing time stats for every 2nd and 3rd round receiver drafted by Seattle since 2010, excluding Amara Darboh because we don’t need to revisit that story. Although Swain was a 6th rounder last year, his stats are also included for the sake of comparison.

Seahawks 2nd-3rd Round Receivers Since 2010

Player Season Round GP GS Targets Catches Yards TDs % Off. Snaps ST Snaps
Player Season Round GP GS Targets Catches Yards TDs % Off. Snaps ST Snaps
Golden Tate 2010 2nd 11 0 39 21 227 0 - -
Paul Richardson 2014 2nd 15 6 44 29 271 1 47% 29
Tyler Lockett 2015 3rd 16 8 69 51 664 6 47% 152
DK Metcalf 2019 2nd 16 15 100 58 900 7 84% 7
Freddie Swain 2020 6th 16 1 21 13 159 2 33% 148

In case you were wondering, I am aware that Golden Tate did, in fact, play on special teams during his rookie season, but his snap counts only date back to 2012 on Pro Football Reference, so use your imagination for that one. Looking across the table, a few things jump out at me; (1) The Seahawks haven’t been afraid to get their highly drafted receivers on the field, but none have been primary starters during year one, save for Metcalf. (2) Outside of DK and Tyler, the other receivers didn’t light up the stat sheet during year one, which leads to the next and final point: (3) getting on the field on Special Teams in some capacity has been an expectation for every player not named Metcalf. Paul Richardson wasn’t utilized extensively, but he still did see twenty-nine ST snaps, primarily as a returner. This data indicates that Eskridge will get opportunities early and often.

Of the list above, DK is the obvious outlier with regard to his style of play and physical profile, as D’Wayne seems to comp much more closely to the smaller, shiftier players like Lockett, Tate, and Richardson. Carroll has tried to find a way to get these guys going in the lineup, and with a decent amount of success; all except Swain put up at least one season of 700+ yards for the Hawks, with Tate going on to become a perennial 1,000 yard receiver for the Lions and NO-E becoming a clinician in pass catching efficiency. Richardson may not have developed into the player that we all hoped for, but he did at least put together a solid season in 2017. Historically speaking, Seahawks rookies with a similar draft background to Eskridge have had mixed performances early in their careers, but all (except Darboh) have managed to make an impact on the field in one way or another. Which leads to our next section...

Week One role

D’Wayne Eskridge has a real opportunity to make his mark on Seattle right away. While he will be competing for snaps with every receiver after Lockett and Metcalf, he certainly has the tools to make it a fierce battle. He is a speedster and will instantly make the team faster every time he is on the field. He offers an explosiveness and run-after-the-catch potential that is unmatched on the roster right now. While he won’t be able to simply outrun the competition like he did so often in the MAC, he still has great potential to find a role in Shane Waldron’s offense. His main competition early on may very well be Freddie Swain, who is athletically and physically not that far removed from Eskridge, albeit with a slower 40 time. Carroll has historically given veterans a chance to compete for playing time, refusing to favor rookies simply because of their draft position and expectations, so D’Wayne will need to make a statement if he wants to lock down the vacant third WR spot previously held by David Moore.

With all this in mind, I won’t be disappointed at all if he is slow to hit the field early on. In fact, I believe that there is a good chance he will begin his career as the fourth man up, assuming that Swain continues to show positive signs of growth in his sophomore campaign. Regardless, he will definitely get his opportunities on the field, but his most promising trait outside of his athleticism is his versatility: he was the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2020, finding success as a talented returner who also lined up as a gunner on the point team. And did he ever look good at it.

Where will he be by Week 18?

Becoming a Special Teams mainstay with upside as a pass catcher/offensive weapon seems like a pretty reasonable floor for year one. However, D’Wayne has unique talent, and could certainly do more. A conservative ceiling might be mirroring Tyler Lockett’s rookie season. NO-E cemented himself as a critical playmaker on the field, playing at least 50% of the team’s offensive snaps in all but two games in 2015. He scored kick and punt return TDs, and was able to snag a handful of touchdowns as a receiver, as well. The reason I think this is conservative is because the team has become increasingly pass heavy, with Wilson attempting more passes in every season since, the lone exception being Schottenheimer’s first year with the team in 2018. Eskridge could potentially land somewhere in the middle of these two projections and still have a great rookie season. Regardless, I don’t foresee him putting up Metcalf numbers in his first year as a pro, but if he even approximates Lockett’s early career, I would consider that a major net win for Seattle.

And he should have plenty of opportunities to do so, even if he ends up with a “red shirt lite” season, much like Tate and Richardson had. The Hawks have some space to fill, as the departed David Moore played nearly 50% of the team’s offensive snaps in 2020, finding the end-zone six times while hauling in thirty-five receptions on forty-seven targets. He also played ninety-nine special teams snaps and factored into the return game, too. Eskridge has the raw talent to put up a similar performance, and the biggest obstacle may be how fast he can pick up the pro game with an established player like Swain battling for playing time also. He isn’t a direct replacement for Moore, but he may be asked to do some similar things, as David was the only receiver in 2020 to record multiple carries as a runner, being utilized occasionally on jet sweeps and gadget plays with some success. D’Wayne could be the most electrifying receiver to get the ball out of the backfield since Percy Harvin — with none of the baggage!

Where will he be in 2022 and beyond?

The Hawks re-signed Lockett this offseason, and have two years remaining on Metcalf’s rookie deal. Neither is likely to depart anytime soon, and D’Wayne won’t supplant either of these players in year one or two, barring injury. And this is okay, as that isn’t what the team needs right now. He has massive upside as a developmental prospect, even in spite of his relatively old age for a draftee (24). If he can make his mark early, especially by the end of year two, he may give the team some flexibility at the position with DK’s contract value about to jump substantially as he nears the end of his rookie deal. The best possible outcome would be that he is a perfect match for Waldron’s offense and gives Wilson a reliable, explosive target who can attack any part of the field with his quickness and vision and create yards once he has the ball in his hands.

UDFA competition

So far, Seattle has signed three undrafted wide receivers, bringing on Tamorrion Terry from Florida State, Cade Johnson from South Dakota, and Connor Wedington from Stanford. Terry is tall and has long-arms to go with 4.4 speed. He is a vertical threat with big play potential. He seems much closer to taking on a DK Metcalf role than the rest of the roster. Cade Johnson may be the most immediate threat to Eskridge if he can make a smooth transition to the pros. Johnson was ranked only three spots behind D’Wayne in Dane Brugler’s draft guide, and he saw similar action for the Jackrabbits, lining up all over the field and returning kicks/punts as well. Connor Wedington is an athletic player with good short area burst, but wasn’t overly productive at Stanford. His skills as a returner may be his biggest asset going into training camp.

Given Pete’s “always compete” mantra, UDFAs have seen the field early and often, perhaps the most famous example in being Doug Baldwin, who led the team in yards, receptions, and TDs as a rookie free agent signing. Although Terry offers the size that is suddenly lacking in the wide receiver room and Johnson has similarly exciting abilities, I believe that D’Wayne’s next level speed and explosiveness — more so than any of the UDFA receivers — will make him a difficult player to not scheme into action early on.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I think Eskridge will have an exciting first year in Seattle. I always shy away from projecting yardage totals or touchdowns or catches because there is absolutely no way to predict those things. I do, however, see a range for D’Wayne that seems reasonable to me. I believe his floor will be 2020 Freddie Swain, with his ceiling being 2015 Tyler Lockett. In addition to this, I expect him to pack on some additional stats as a featured player on gadget plays. I don’t know where Carroll views him fitting in as a returner, but he will get his opportunities on special teams, and could be a great find at the always fun to watch gunner spot, so a handful of coverage tackles aren’t out of the question, either. Whatever role he ends up finding, I am extremely excited to see D’Wayne Eskridge take the field in ‘21 and look forward to seeing him play many more seasons as a Seahawk.

For more on the former Bronco, I highly recommend checking out Sam Gold’s Film Room on D’Wayne Eskridge for an informative and in-depth look at Seattle’s new playmaker.

Thanks for reading, and check back soon for the short and long-term outlook of Tre Brown!