2021 NFL draft prospects: Western Michigan WR D'Wayne Eskridge

·5 min read
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Western Michigan WR D'Wayne Eskridge

5-foot-9, 190 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.81 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Speedball who destroyed MAC defenses in 2020, but age and size are concerns

Games watched: Michigan State (2019), Central Michigan (2020), Northern Illinois (2020), Ball State (2020)

The skinny: A 2-star Rivals recruit, D’Wayne “Dee” Eskridge received two FBS offers: Western Michigan and Ball State. He committed to the Broncos and saw the field as a true freshman in 2016, playing in 12 games and catching 17 passes for 121 yards and a TD in his first game (an upset at Northwestern); he also ran six times for 60 yards. In 2017, Eskridge started 12 games, catching 30 passes for 506 yards and three TDs, and rushing four times for 13 yards.

In 2018, he caught 38 passes for 776 yards and three touchdowns, starting seven of 11 games. With an eye on his NFL future, Eskridge moved to outside cornerback part time in 2019 but also played receiver. He caught three passes for 73 yards and made 14 tackles and four pass breakups on defense, eventually taking a redshirt after a collarbone injury ended his season after four games.

Eskridge moved back to receiver full time in 2020, turning in his best season. He was named first-team All-MAC (on offense and as a kick returner) and MAC Special Teams Player of the Year. He caught 34 passes for 784 yards and eight TDs, ran twice for 43 yards and averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return. Eskridge appeared at the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Upside: Freakish athleticism. Reportedly has run a laser-timed 4.33 second 40-yard dash, benched 350 pounds, squatted 505 pounds and registered a 37.5-inch vertical and a 4.08-second short shuttle.

His 2020 tape was laughably good — just blew by corners on the regular. Game speed is exceptional, and MAC DBs didn’t have a shot to stick with him. An absolute blur if he is given a free release — give him a step and he’s gone. Slick off the line with terrific first-step burst.

Big-play machine. Averaged 20.4 yards per catch since the start of the 2017 season. Nine TDs in six games last season — found the end zone at least once in every contest. Hauled in a long catch of at least 47 yards in every game last season and had scoring receptions of 85, 76 and 72 yards. Averaged a stunning 14.4 yards after the catch last season. WMU QB Kaleb Eleby had a 142.1 passer rating when throwing to Eskridge in single coverage.

AKRON, OH - NOVEMBER 04: Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver D'Wayne Eskridge (1) returns the opening kickoff during the first quarter of the college football game between the Western Michigan Broncos and Akron Zips on November 4, 2020, at Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium in Akron, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Western Michigan wide receiver D'Wayne Eskridge was one of the fastest players in college football. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Displayed improved route-running technique and precision over his career. Maintains his speed throughout routes and can plant and cut quickly. Will sky for balls in the air and adjust well to off-target throws.

Caught passes at all three levels of the field and surprised with his toughness over the middle. Lined up inside and outside, also moonlighting in the backfield on occasion. Cornerback experience certainly had to help with learning how to leverage defenders and get clean releases off the line. Added kick-return duties to his plate in 2020 and was terrific — 17 runbacks for 467 yards and a 100-yard TD.

Good competitive spirit. Can bring life to an offense and change a game with a single play. Figures to have extra appeal for teams that employ a lot of gadget plays.

Downside: Undersized for an outside receiver. Small frame that hasn’t seen much bulk added over his college career — was roughly the same size in high school. Arm length (30 1/8 inches) is in the bottom 10th percentile. Below-average hand size (9 inches). Some durability issues that must be vetted.

Route tree remains basic for a fifth-year senior. Plenty of posts, overs and go routes, plus slants, crossers and screens underneath. Still not fully developed in beating press coverage vs. longer-armed corners and not yet savvy enough throughout his routes where he’s not winning with pure speed. Linear route runner.

Even with leaping ability, contested catches are sure to be more difficult against more physical, bigger corners and safeties. Limited strength. Played far more outside and remains inexperienced as a slot receiver.

Level of competition became a bigger concern with the condensed 2020 season. Missed three potentially choice matchups against excellent defenses as Broncos were originally slated to face Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Syracuse. MAC corners were no test — Eskridge only matched up with Ball State's Antonio Phillips a handful of snaps in their meeting.

Will be a 24-year-old rookie — is there room for development? Will be 28 at the end of his rookie contract. Might never have a diverse enough game to be a true WR1 or WR2.

Best-suited destination: In a perfect world, Eskridge would be a shot-in-the-arm weapon and WR3 who is sent on vertical routes and short stuff where his speed can turn an easy throw into a big gainer. He also can be used on trick plays and kickoffs, but his receiver future might be more geared toward lining up inside.

A team such as the Arizona Cardinals would make a lot of sense, adding another dimension and dose of speed to a fast-break offense.

Did you know: Eskridge was a high school track star in Indiana, winning the state’s “Mr. Track and Field” in 2017. He won state track titles — two in 200 meters and one in the 100, clocking a time of 10.5 seconds — and turned in a 23-foot-8 long jump.

Player comp: Think Mecole Hardman or Marquise Goodwin

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