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6 Qs and 6 As with Hustle Belt: The strengths, weaknesses, and potential of D’Wayne Eskridge

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

You know how during the NFL season we have 5 questions and 5 answers with opposition SB Nation sites to get a read on their teams? Well today you’re in for something different!

We’re doing 6 Qs and 6 As with Steve Helwick from Hustle Belt, SBN’s hub for the Mid-America Conference aka the MAC, which is the conference Seattle Seahawks second-round pick D’Wayne Eskridge played in for five years. MACtion has developed a cult following among college football fans due to the often wild, exciting, offensive driven games those schools tend to produce, and who better to really get a read on Eskridge than someone who’s tuned into this MACtion goodness on a weekly basis?

You’ll get to know about Eskridge’s strengths, weaknesses, concerns, and ultimately his potential over the next few minutes, so without further ado here is what you need to know about Seattle’s number one pick from this year’s NFL Draft.

1.) D’Wayne Eskridge’s 18.5 yards per reception in his college career suggests he’s a home run hitter of sorts. How much of his success comes from deep passes compared to turning short routes into big plays?

Early on in his college career, a good portion of his receptions stemmed from deep passes. His breakout game was the 2018 opener vs. Syracuse, where he buried the defense with post routes and streaks. Eskridge tallied eight receptions, 240 yards, and a pair of touchdowns against that Syracuse team which finished ranked No. 15 in the final AP Poll.

But last season, with a new starting quarterback, Eskridge usually struck on slants and crossing routes. Western Michigan ran a lot of quick passes out of RPO sets, and this is where Eskridge did significant damage collecting YAC. Eskridge on quick slants vs. 1-on-1 man coverage proved to be an unfair battle as such plays resulted in automatic points — and Eskridge averaged 1.3 receiving touchdowns per game in 2020 as a result.

2.) The ability to block is something the Seahawks value quite heavily from its receivers, and new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron comes from a Rams team that has excellent blocking receivers. How has Eskridge fared as a blocker whether in the pass or run game?

Overall, Eskridge fared as a net positive as a run blocker at Western Michigan. He doesn’t attack with the largest frame, but Eskridge isn’t afraid to fully commit himself straight into a defender and drive his feet. He rarely misses assignments, and I believe this quality was factored into play when the Seahawks drafted him in the second round.

Western Michigan frequently runs the ball outside the tackles since Tim Lester took over as head coach, and Eskridge deserves props for assisting a 1,200-yard running back in LeVante Bellamy in 2018. However, as the No. 1 receiver for a bulk of his college days, he was never really assigned pass blocking duties.

3.) Are there any injury concerns Eskridge has shown apart from a broken clavicle that forced his medical redshirt?

No, but the season-ending broken clavicle in 2019 was extremely unfortunate at the time. Eskridge switched his primary focus to cornerback for that senior season, where he registered 14 tackles and four pass breakups in the first three games. The clavicle injury ended up sparking his NFL career, however. He transitioned back to wide receiver in 2020 and played his best football while suiting up for Western Michigan, attaining 100+ yards in five of six games.

The MAC originally canceled its fall 2020 season before reversing its course of action. No player’s draft stock benefited more from the reinstated, abbreviated MAC season than Eskridge. Although he was solid at cornerback, Eskridge wouldn’t have been selected 56th overall if he concluded his college career on defense.

4.) What are the top attributes Eskridge possesses that will best suit him in an NFL offense?

I’ll reiterate this word numerous times, but Eskridge is a quintessential playmaker. If given a hint of space in front of him, a touchdown is always a possibility. His ability to maneuver in the open field allowed him to average over 20 yards per reception in each of his final three years in Kalamazoo and earn 27.5 yards per kick return while working on special teams. Eskridge presents a lethal degree of speed which he utilizes to become a great route runner. His initial moves and quick bursts at the line of scrimmage are usually enough to gain an extra step on a defender, and he cuts with perfect precision.

One of his underrated abilities he illustrates is the ability to high point the ball. Despite a measurement at 5’9”, Eskridge adds another dimension to his game with this skill, which serves him well in rare circumstances when he is not catching on the run.

5.) What are his main weaknesses that could prevent him from having a productive NFL career?

Eskridge is 5’9” and 190 pounds. He’s the former Mr. Track and Field from the state of Indiana and his track skills are evident on the field. However, he could add more elements of physicality to his game. Eskridge usually excels as a space creator but doesn’t operate as well in traffic. He’ll need to work on completing contested catches while blanketed by NFL-caliber corners and safeties. Eskridge must also learn to fight through contact, especially when defenders check him within five yards of the line of scrimmage, before he can initialize his route.

6.) All things considered, do you think the Seahawks “reached” for Eskridge by picking him in the second-round or is he very much an upper-end NFL talent?

Eskridge dominated the 2020 season at Western Michigan in a manner that warranted a second round draft pick. I believe his experience as the team’s No. 1 cornerback in the 2019 season only improved his ability to dominate man coverage and thrive at wide receiver. The former Bronco is the definition of a playmaker, as suggested by his four 70+ yard touchdowns in an abbreviated 6-game season. But ability aside, Eskridge is a great fit for Seattle.

Following David Moore’s departure, one of the Seahawks’ notable voids was a third receiver to complement one of the best receiving duos in the NFL. And what better way to fill that vacancy than somebody who can churn out significant yardage on any reception. Whether it’s a quick slant or a streak pattern, Eskridge’s straight-line speed (4.38-second 40-yard dash time at Pro Day) always presents a danger to opposing defenses, and he’ll require a set of eyeballs from defenders. His presence should ease the pressure off Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf — a much needed weapon to bolster the passing offense while Russell Wilson remains in his prime.

Outside of his normal wide receiver duties, the Seahawks could plug and play him as a kick returner or jet sweep specialist, so he presents a nice range of versatility after shining in all three phases of the game at Western Michigan.

Thanks again to Steve for taking the time to answer my questions, and hopefully you enjoyed the read as we continue our deep dive into the Seahawks’ very small draft class.