Seattle Seahawks 2021 second-round pick Dee Eskridge delivered a rookie season that fell far below expectations. Seattle fans were anticipating the rookie to make an instant impact seeing as he was selected with the 56th pick. We only saw him total 187 offensive snaps in 10 games for the Seahawks whilst picking up a minuscule 10 receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown. He did show some flashes with the ball in his hands, including 4 carries for 59 yards as a runner. Injuries did play a key part in his inability to breakthrough as a rookie due to the fact he suffered a toe injury that limited his participation in both training camp and in preseason games. On top of that he also suffered a concussion in Week 1 of the regular season. With that in mind, what are the best ways offensive coordinator Shane Waldron can use Eskridge to fully unlock him as a player?
Eskridge is an offensive weapon; he is not a refined receiver, but he can be utilized as the type of player who can be a nightmare for defenses to game plan for and defend. Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron did a good job of utilizing him last season although there is still room to improve, especially with the weapons that this offense has in it. His average depth of target during the 2021 season was 12.6 yards, a number that I think should come down significantly. I am not suggesting the number should come down because of Eskridge’s abilities as a receiver down the field as he is a player who can both go up and get it as well as track the ball, but that is not what he is best at. Eskridge is best utilized within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and even behind it at times. As displayed in this game against Ball State in 2020, Eskridge was consistently fed the ball in the quick passing game, mainly on RPO’s, drags and curls.
The RPO game is going to be imperative for Seattle this season because of their desire to pound the rock in the running game, as well as their likely average QB play and the fact that the line is a younger and more inexperienced group, meaning the ball is going to have to come out quickly. There are a multitude of different ways that Eskridge can be utilized as a true weapon in the RPO passing game outside of the quick screens that we saw Western Michigan use him in.
RPO play #1 - Lined up in the backfield
Okay this GT Counter Flare Screen RPO is SICK pic.twitter.com/MEkt9W78le— Mike (@bengals_sans) November 29, 2021
In this play we see the Cincinnati Bengals utilize a split back formation of Joe Mixon and Ja’Marr Chase. This is something that immediately is going to cause some chaos for a defense as Chase, who like Eskridge is always one of the best athletes on the field, is commanding a safety or linebacker to cover him if they are in man coverage which is always going to be advantage receiver. They put him in early motion which both alters the eyes of the defense and tells Burrow what coverage they are in. With nobody trailing Chase in the pre-snap motion it alerts Burrow that it is zone coverage, so they are going to have the numbers advantage on the pass to Chase. Seattle could incorporate a similar play where DK Metcalf is isolated on the boundary side, Rashaad Penny and Dee Eskridge are lined up in the backfield with Noah Fant and Tyler Lockett in a bunch on the field side. With Metcalf isolated one safety will likely creep over to his side, meaning if Eskridge gets the ball, it will put him in a one-on-one situation with the other safety, a battle he is going to win more often than not.
RPO play #2 - Trips formation
Alabama running an Outside Zone RPO with a Bubble Screen to the field.— Jake Franklin Football (@JakeFranklinFB) August 22, 2021
The QB is reading the Backside LB. The LB ran with the Outside Zone, telling the QB to flick it out to the Bubble. pic.twitter.com/gYLSKhEDrX
In this play we see Alabama motion in their running back to get an immediate tell if the defense is in zone or man coverage on the play. With nobody running with him across the formation and the corner sliding down to take the receiver we are told they are in zone coverage. That is key on this play as it reduces the number of defenders with responsibilities to what would be Eskridge’s side. Like the previous play, we would see Seattle isolate Metcalf as the “X” receiver on one side of the ball paired with tight trips to the field side which would likely feature Fant, Lockett and Eskridge as the trip's receivers. The true beauty of this play design and the utilization of Eskridge in it is just how much space it will create against a zone defense. As seen in the video, the field side safety has his eyes in the backfield which means he is not reacting to the throw until the receiver almost catches it. With the play being run to the field side it immediately puts the receiver and safety in an immediate foot race for the sideline which Eskridge will once again win far more often than not.
RPO play #3 - Slot slant pass
2019 Bills (Brian Daboll) running a Pin & Pull RPO— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) February 23, 2022
"Locked" Backside Guard & Tackle Pass Set on the 3 & 5 Tech
Pin & Pull to the TE Side (Center Pull vs. 2i)
↗️ 3 Step Slot Slant on the Backside pic.twitter.com/GyRWIpp94Q
With how much we are likely going to see the Seahawks lean on the running game this year this style of RPO can be deadly if used properly. It is a look that they can show consistently to a defense with Metcalf as the “X”, Lockett as the “Z” and Eskridge lined up in the slot. Waldron can call an inside or outside zone running play out of this look 3 to 4 times and then he can hit a defense with this style of RPO once they start to cheat the run and fall asleep to their assignments. As seen in the play, the Miami Dolphins have six defenders lined up in the box within two yards of the line of scrimmage and another defender playing over the tight end in the box on the other side of Eskridge. This means if the linebacker’s first step is downhill against the run, Eskridge is going to be one-on-one against a slot corner or safety who will not have help to the inside. If he can win at the stem of the route he will immediately be put in space and should be able to generate a chunk play out of it with relative ease.
Quick passing game
Play #1 - Jet sweep flat route
4 Cooper Kupp Clips vs. DET (3/4)— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) October 25, 2021
-Some shifting before Kupp goes in jet motion to out leverage the defense to the edge in the low red zone pic.twitter.com/Im97A5GPTf
On this play we see some early motion that alerts Matthew Stafford the defense is in man coverage which is important on this play. If the defense was in zone the flat defender to the side Cooper Kupp makes the reception would eliminate the route, simply making his motion a decoy. However, since they are in man coverage the jet sweep motion pre-snap puts the defender in catch-up mode. Not only do they have to stay step for step with Kupp across the formation, but they also importantly have to navigate traffic on the play by gaining depth to avoid defenders in the box. A route like this would be a great way of utilizing Eskridge’s overall speed — he ran a 4.4 40 which featured a 10-yard split of 1.51 seconds, grading a 9.68 out of 10 in terms of Relative Athletic Score. Any defender who is forced to gain depth on the play is going to have a difficult time in both staying even with Eskridge and then coming up and making a tackle on the shifty receiver that close to the endzone. Eskridge can also be utilized in an iteration of this play where we see the QB give a hard play action fake with a bootleg and hit Eskridge on an underneath route with no pre snap motion which should put him in plenty of space.
Play #2 - Coming out of the backfield
4 Cooper Kupp Clips vs. DET (1/4)— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) October 25, 2021
-Kupp motions into the backfield here on his route. Would love to see more WRs in the backfield around the league pic.twitter.com/8voEZ6XRzS
A receiver coming out of the backfield is one of the more difficult things for defenses to defend, as it either forces them to put a corner in the box (which is unlikely) or match the receiver up with a linebacker or box safety. We see the more creative offensive minds around the league use this with some regularity — Sean McVay utilizing Kupp in this manner and Kyle Shanahan using Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk out of the backfield. Eskridge is obviously not nearly as good of a route runner as Cooper Kupp, but in order for this style of play to be effective he does not need to be. If the “X” receiver, who would likely be Metcalf on the play, does a good job of clearing out defenders and Eskridge does enough to threaten the two-way go at the stem of the route it is extremely difficult for any defender to stop the route. On top of this if Eskridge was to see a similar style defense as shown in the play Eskridge would have an easy 10 plus yard completion and potentially a touchdown since the defender has to cheat inside because of how much space there is over the middle of the field compared to the boundary side.
Play #3 - Drag route
Mac Jones had a TD to Nelson Agholor on the drag route here pic.twitter.com/XPS5GHlfv7— Justin Ramos (@NEPinsider) December 4, 2021
This style of route is one of the easiest ways to get Eskridge the ball in space. It is not necessary for it to be run out of an empty set and it could be run with a player in the backfield, although the empty set does put more stress on the defense. Waldron could get a bit more creative with this by going in a 2x2 formation, which is simply two pass catchers on each side of the formation with both Eskridge and Metcalf in the slot running drag routes. If the defense is in a Cover 1 robber, which is when the safety drops to the hook zone or rat, where a linebacker is in the hook zone they are almost guaranteed to flow with Metcalf’s route in the play. This in turn would leave Eskridge in a one-on-one foot race to sideline which as discussed earlier is a battle he is going to win far more often than not.
Without the ball in his hands
Even if a receiver never touches the ball on a play, they can still make a significant impact on the play, if not the largest impact. Putting a player in motion stresses a defense, especially a player as athletic as Eskridge.
Play #1 - Jet sweep motion play action pass
The Shane Waldron offense at its best. Under center play action, motion at the snap, and a wide open throw to Will Dissly. Watch the false steps #54 Kendricks takes when Russell Wilson fakes it to Alex Collins pic.twitter.com/OAd2vdFUTL— Parker (@ParkerLewes) September 28, 2021
This play is already in Shane Waldron’s offense. Here we see Lockett come across the formation in a jet sweep motion with Seattle running a hard play-action pass with a pulling guard off of it. As a result, we see #59 take a few shuffle steps to his left which eliminates his ability to get his hands on tight end Will Dissly at the start of the route. Paired with the play action of it which causes #54 Eric Kendricks to step up which in turn leaves a large amount of space for Will Dissly to run into during his route and with the ball. This play action style pass is something Seattle could also show once or twice early in the season with Eskridge running the jet sweep motion and then later in the season they could hand it off to him when defenses are expecting it less based on what they’ve put on film.
Play #2 - Orbit motion handoff
Interesting play design from Shane Waldron for the #Seahawks. Likely setting something up for later in the season. 49ers have run this a couple times where the first WR becomes the lead blocker. In this case Lockett would block for a DK sweep pic.twitter.com/Exdz6xTNIR— Rishi Rastogi (@rishiirastogi) September 16, 2021
This play is another play out of Waldron’s playbook that would do a great job of using Eskridge to change the eyes of the defense. Putting Eskridge in an immediate orbit motion as if he was getting an end around is not only going to change the eyes of the defense but it also going to cause the defense to flow away from where the play is actually going. This is going to make it much more difficult for linebackers to have sound gap control and as a result will make it more likely that the running back is going to be able to rip off a large chunk play. Like the prior play as well there is potential that Seattle could run this play with a fake orbit motion 2 or 3 times throughout the season and then later on hand it off or toss it to Eskridge.
Play #3 - Orbit motion empty
Chiefs again creating a 4x1 Spacing concept that they really like. But this time running it out of Empty before having the RB go on an Orbit motion.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) February 11, 2021
CB Jamel Dean played physical with Tyreek Hill all game and it forces Mahomes to work frontside here. pic.twitter.com/93c4rEhU2T
Kansas City is one of, if not the best teams in the league at using pre-snap motion to manipulate and change the eye levels of the defense. We see Clyde Edwards-Helaire go into an orbit motion against a zone defense, which in turn puts #54 Lavonte David in conflict. He can either stay at home in coverage and take away Travis Kelce over the middle or he can sprint towards Edwards-Helaire and take away the swing route. He decides to do the latter which makes it a simple pitch and catch for Mahomes and Kelce where they are able to pick up around 9 yards on the play. Had David stayed at home, Edwards-Helaire would have been wide open with acres of space, which is not a site opposing defenses want to see Eskridge have.
The first hope in his second season is for Eskridge stay healthy after spending much of his rookie year injured. From there, Seattle can find ways to make the former Western Michigan star a key part of its offense.