From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
D’Wayne Eskridge / WR/ Western Michigan – 5’9 1/8, 188lb
-Lined up primarily on the boundary, but has experience working out of the slot
-Has legit speed and explosiveness for the position
-Starting burst is average, but he builds speed really well and accelerates up field in a hurry
-Shows his burst and explosiveness immediately after the catch, turning upfield or to the sideline instantly to pull away from defenders
-Able to weave through the defense after the catch, having the vision and athletic ability to be a threat in open space
-Does a great job getting an inside release on slant, shallow crossers, and post patterns, making a smooth transition inside without losing speed to get inside leverage on the route
-Great when he gets the ball close to the LOS with other receivers clearing out the defense for open grass to run
-Has been well-used on reverses, screens, and jet motions to get him on the corner with blockers in front
-Drops his center of gravity great on comeback and curl concepts, keeping his speed going vertical till the last second to sell defenders deep to create separation-Does a good job snagging the ball outside his frame and when contested in coverage
-Plays tough over the middle able to hold on to the ball on contact from a defender
-Not afraid to take on press man coverage at the LOS, being physical off the snap to get off of the jam
-Pretty strong given his size both at the catch point and as a runner after the catch
-Viable returner on kickoffs with the speed and vision to break a long return
-Willing blocker that will get hands on with a defender
-Can struggle working in close quarters against longer athletic corners that can neutralize him on the boundary and on jump balls
-Can lose the ball on contested grabs due to lack of length and she to shield defenders away from reaching inside his catch radius
-Has your occasional focus drop looking to turn up and run
-Lack of size limits overall impact as a blocker
-Will be 24 years old as a rookie and never had a huge campaign as a collegiate
-Redshirt Senior prospect from Bluffton, Ind.
-Track star in high school, winning the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, and the long jump in his region in both 2015 and 2016
-Also won 60-meter dash indoor in 2015
-Primarily a running back for Bluffton High School
-Played in 12 games as a true freshman and caught 17 passes for 121 yards and one TD while rushing six times for 60 yards
-Started all 12 games as a sophomore, catching 30 passes for 506 yards and three TDs
-Played in 11 games and started seven as a junior, catching 35 passes for 776 yards and three TDs
-Had senior season cut short after four games of the season before suffering a season-ending clavicle injury, served as a starting wide receiver and cornerback against Syracuse and Georgia State
-Returned to play in 6 games in 2020, catching 33 passes for 768 yards and 8 scores along with 17 kick returns for 467 yards and a return TD
D’Wayne Eskridge has garnered a lot of buzz in the pre-draft process despite being from a smaller school at Western Michigan. He received high reviews during Senior Bowl week for his ability to separate from the competition he faced in Mobile, as well as utilizing his athletic traits in front of scouts in attendance. After popping in the tape, it’s easy to see why. Eskridge is a dynamic player as a receiver and a returner. He has high-end speed and acceleration to run away from defenders in coverage and pull away from defenses in pursuit of the ball.
Here on this play against Central Michigan, he lines up at the top left of the screen against press man coverage, gets an inside release against the corner, and gets quick separation for the slant. The QB throws the ball high, but Eskridge adjusts and catches the ball outside of his frame, and then breaks away from those in pursuit for an easy score.
Another example of Eskridge’s speed and burst in the same game. Here he lines up in the slot, breaks back to the ball on the curl concept, then turns upfield immediately after the catch, burning the multiple defenders’ angles of pursuit on him for the long score. Here he seems to pull up a little at the end like in the previous example, but that can be coached to finished. When you are a small-school prospect, you have to separate yourself from others on film, and he does just that.
Not only does he use his speed vertically and after the catch, but he generates a lot of separation on his route concepts, not slowing down coming out of his breaks as he attacks the cushion of the defensive backs he goes up against. This is one of my favorite plays of Eskridge where he lines up against press man coverage, gives a good pop at the line to get off the jam, gets into his route and then stabs the ground hard with his step, dropping his hips and coming back hard to the football. He then proceeds to make multiple defenders miss, picking up a good chunk of yardage after the catch.
Eskridge is dangerous on slant routes, as well as gadget plays on the outside where he gets the ball quickly to work in space. A clear example of his speed and YAC ability comes on this play vs Toledo where he catches the short slant route, getting immediate separation from the defensive back than hitting the jets up the middle, running away from the defense for six.
Despite being smaller in stature, he plays pretty strong at the catch point and can make contested catches in coverage. Here in the same game, he goes up for the jump ball, catching it at the high point over the defensive back, having good body control to come down with both feet in bounds along the sideline, and brace for the safety coming in at the end of the play to complete the catch to the ground.
If you are going to be a middle-round draft pick, you likely have to contribute on special teams. Eskridge can definitely aid in that area as a threat to take kickoffs the distance with his speed and explosiveness. He may not be the most elusive runner, but he has pretty good vision going back to his days as a tail back in high school and can make 1 cut and be off to the races.
There are a couple negatives to point out to Eskridge’s game. He lacks the ideal frame to be a jump ball, red zone weapon, and can struggle shielding defenders away from his frame. He has some unwarranted drops on his ledger and can have the ball poked out at the point of the catch by longer rangy corners. Here on this Senior Bowl rep, he gets the separation from the corner, brings in the ball, but doesn’t tuck it away and has the defender make contact and cause an incomplete pass.
Another example of an easy catch, but he fails to haul it in, having the ball drop to the turf.
He will be a 24-year-old rookie, which isn’t ideal when considering the long-term outlook of a draft prospect. He also never put it all together for a full season breakout at a mid-major school, but he did have impressive numbers in the half season the MAC was allowed to play this season.
Overall, Eskridge has the dynamic ability to make an impact in the passing game as well as a kick returner at the next level. He has also experience playing corner for the Broncos when needed, thus showing his willingness to do whatever the team asks of him to be successful. When I think of a good comp for Eskridge, Golden Tate comes to mind. Both are considered undersized but play a lot bigger than their measurements suggest. They both generate separation in their routes and are threats after the catch with their YAC ability. Alex mentioned in his article that Golden Tate could be a cheap free agent target for the Steelers. Should the Steelers choose to sign more of their own or opt not to sign the 32-year-old, the can go back to a lot of their trends in the draft and pick a mid-round MAC WR with experience on special teams, that is an upper-classman, has film from playing this season, and participated in the Senior Bowl.
Eskridge can come in right away as a field stretcher as well as a returner or gunner on special teams. Should he be utilized more in the slot and allowed to work the intermediate to get the ball quickly to work in space, Eskridge could prove to be a great passing option in a Matt Canada-lead offense and be a legit 3-level threat for a passing game needing a spark.
Projection: Late Day 2 – Early Day 3
Games Watched: at Central Michigan (2020), vs NIU (2020), vs Toledo (2020)