D’Wayne Eskridge: The Next Cheetah?
Wide receivers play all sorts of roles in the NFL. You have your short-yardage target monsters, red zone dominators, over-the-top speedsters, and everything else in between. Let’s dive into one of the many promising WRs in this extremely deep draft class, D’Wayne Eskridge.
D’Wayne Eskridge attended Bluffton High School (Bluffton, Indiana) and played two football seasons at the varsity level. As a Junior and Senior, Eskridge was offensively utilized as a running back. Across 11 games played as a Junior, Eskridge registered 161 carries for 1,172 yards while crossing the goal line 11 times. On top of his ground game, he added 32 receptions for 433 yards and five touchdowns. These numbers were good for 145.9 all-purpose yards per game. As a Senior, D’Wayne played in nine games, toting the rock 103 times for 1,020 yards and 16 touchdowns. He added 15 receptions for 170 yards through the air. He averaged 132.2 all-purpose yards per game that season. Tacking on a KOR TD in his Junior season, Eskridge finished his varsity football career finding the endzone 33 times while averaging ~139 all-purpose yards per game. Adding a cherry on top, he averaged 43.8 yards per KR and 34.4 yards per PR. When reviewing his Senior highlights, it’s evident the elusiveness and breakaway speed Eskridge possesses.
Aside from football, Eskridge was a track phenom. Putting his speed on display, D’Wayne was named Indiana’s Mr. Track and Field in his senior year.
Listed at 5’9”, 190 pounds, Eskridge was ranked as a three-star prospect as per 247 Sports. He stacked up as the 23rd ranked recruit out of the state of Indiana, 30th ranked all-purpose back nationally, but was buried on the list of the top recruits; D’Wayne was ranked 1,541st overall. He only received offers from two schools, Western Michigan and Ball State. Eskridge ultimately accepted an offer from the former, Western Michigan.
D’Wayne Eskridge would suit up as a wide receiver for the Western Michigan Broncos across five collegiate seasons (2016-2020). Eskridge was utilized sparingly in his Freshman season (10 games), recording a 17-121-1 receiving stat line. It wasn’t until his Sophomore season (12 games) that Eskridge saw more consistent usage as an aerial weapon. He finished third on the team in receptions (30) and receiving TDs (3) but finished first in receiving yards (506). His big-play potential was starting to translate at the collegiate level. As a Junior (11 games), D’Wayne would go on to finish second in receptions (38), receiving yards (776), and receiving TDs (3). Eskridge’s YPR jumped from 16.9 yards to 20.4 yards. Would this trend continue? In short, yes.
His 2019 season was cut short after he suffered a broken collarbone four games into the season. D’Wayne would return in 2020 as a redshirt Senior, putting up electric numbers over an abbreviated six-game season. Eskridge was statistically his team’s #1 target, leading the Broncos in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs (33-768-8). His YPR would again improve to a respectable 23.3 yards. In 2020, D’Wayne would lead the Mid-American Conference in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and KOR TDs (1). His redshirt Senior season was the only collegiate year that Eskridge would return kick-offs. Seventeen returns for 467 yards (27.5 AVG) and a TD. Not too shabby. He was awarded First-team All-MAC honors (2020) and was deemed the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year (2020). His career YPR (18.5) lands 5th all-time in the MAC. Eskridge rarely carried the rock over his college career, only registering 12 attempts for 116 yards. Here are his cumulative collegiate receiving statistics:
Receiving Yards: 2,244
Receiving TDs: 15
D’Wayne Eskridge used his track speed to burn opposing secondaries throughout his NCAA career. Eskridge changes direction with ease and has no problem beating defenders over the middle or to the outside. Hit this kid on a skinny post and he’ll take it to the house. He sports reliable hands and runs a fairly crisp route tree. Despite being undersized, he’s not afraid of contact. He’s simply a playmaker. I love watching his tape. I’m sure you will too.
His unofficial 40-yard dash clocks in at 4.33. Leading up to his Pro Day, Eskridge has already bet the house on himself; he said he’ll run a 4.2. Could he beat the record set by John Ross? Time will tell. Tune in on Thursday, March 25th, and see for yourself.
I may be juiced up on Eskridge’s tape, but I see some similarities to one of the NFL’s most dynamic receivers. You guessed it; I’m referring to the cheetah. I’m not saying Eskridge is the next Tyreek Hill, but he fits an identical mold. Just some numbers for your morning coffee:
D’Wayne Eskridge: 5’9” – 190 pounds – 4.33 (unofficial 40-yard dash)
Tyreek Hill: 5’10” – 185 pounds – 4.29 (40-yard dash)
NFL offenses can always use another weapon, especially one with league-breaking speed. Great landing spots for D’Wayne Eskridge are those that attempt the RPO (run-pass-option) at high frequencies, those who need a receiver that can stretch opposing defenses or those who simply need a boost to their WR room. His ability to return kicks on special teams only adds to his potential contribution. The Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, and Arizona Cardinals all demonstrate a heavy RPO-tendency relative to the rest of the league. I see Eskridge fitting into these systems swimmingly. Aaron Rodgers would love to have another shiny toy in Eskridge. Larry Legend would be a fine mentor for the youngster. I’ll briefly pump the breaks on the Texans, who have enough question marks currently. If Deshaun Watson returns at the helm and Will Fuller is lost in free agency, D’Wayne could be a contributor on day dot. The Cincinnati Bengals could use a *new* speed demon (sheesh, another John Ross reference?) to supplement Burrow’s young WR corps. The New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, and Washington Football Team simply need WR help. Eskridge could get snaps early and often in these systems. I’m excluding the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants from the list; I expect these organizations to address their WR needs on Day One of the NFL Draft. If Allen Robinson is in new knits next season, I expect the Chicago Bears to address WR as well.
With an electric Pro Day, I could see Eskridge sliding into the second round, but he’ll surely be off the board after Day Two. One thing to keep in mind, he’ll be 24 years old by Draft Day.
D’Wayne Eskridge broke his collarbone shortly after the start of the 2019 season. Dr. Cliff Rios, who is board-certified in Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, chimed in when Aaron Rodgers broke his clavicle during the 2017 NFL Season. Dr. Rios spoke about numerous aspects including repair, rehabilitation, and reinjury. All in all, Dr. Rios concluded that if the fracture is healed and anatomically sound, that the collarbone “will be as strong, or possibly stronger than its pre-injury state”1. Eskridge returned to form for the 2020 NCAA Season. It seems like this injury is far behind him. No concern here.
If you’re interested in reading the complete article by Dr. Cliff Rios, you can find it here.
There’s no denying the stick of dynamite that is D’Wayne Eskridge. He is a big play waiting to happen and can take it to the crib on any touch. In dynasty start-ups, Eskridge is expected to be going off the board somewhere between rounds 15 and 20. The format always spices things up a bit. More data should solidify his start-up ADP. For example, in our Fantasy Scouts dynasty start-up (1QB, 2TE, SF), Eskridge was drafted at 19.10 (190th overall). With a rookie ADP ~34, Eskridge can be selected with a fourth-round rookie pick in leagues with 10 teams or a third-round rookie pick in leagues with 12 teams or more. I’m jumping all over that. The 2021 class is certainly a deep one, and current/future owners of Eskridge got/are getting him at a handsome discount. I’d be comfortable taking him with an early third-round rookie selection. His upside is just too salivating to pass up. The talent is there. If he lands in a favorable situation, his ADP should rise. We may have a new cheetah in town.
1. Rios, Dr. Cliff. “NFL Week 7 Injury Report: What It's Like To Break Your Collarbone (Aaron Rodgers).” Health News Hub, 1 Sept. 2020, healthnewshub.org/nfl-week-7-injury-report-like-break-collarbone-aaron-rodgers/.
(Picture Credits: Getty Images & WMU Athletics.)