Maybe D’Wayne Eskridge isn’t the offensive lineman many figured the Seahawks might add with their first pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
But otherwise, there isn’t much Eskridge won’t be able to do for the Seahawks, who took him with the 56th overall pick Friday night.
Eskridge played receiver and cornerback at Western Michigan and was one of the nation’s best kickoff returners along with playing other roles on special teams.
“He’ll be a well-rounded player,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We like that kind of versatility.”
On top of everything else, what the 5-8-3/4 inch, 190-pounder brings to Seattle is speed, having been clocked at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash during his pro day at Western Michigan.
“Just a really explosive guy who can throttle his speed,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said.
He also brings a healthy optimism that he can emerge as a third receiving threat alongside Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
“I just come in and bring some more explosiveness to it,’’ Eskridge said during a Zoom session with media Friday of joining Lockett, Metcalf and Russell Wilson. “Those are dogs that you mentioned. I’m also a dog, so I feel like I’ll be able to fit in pretty good and just take it to another level.’’
Eskridge also fits the classic Seahawks mode of having something to prove.
Coming out of Buffton, Indiana, population 9,919, he had offers only from Ball State and Western Michigan.
He also had to overcome a broken clavicle just four games into the 2019 season to revive his NFL hopes with a standout senior year in 2020 in which he averaged 23 yards per reception.
“It’s definitely a blessing I made it through all the obstacles I did,’’ said Eskridge, who said he went into draft day Friday hoping the Seahawks would take him, and grew confident they would as the second round wore on.
“As soon as I saw the Seahawks (on the clock) I instantly knew,’’ he said. “It was some type of energy that came over me. And then once I saw the Washington number, I instantly stood up. I was so joyful.’’
Eskridge said one reason he felt the Seahawks might take him is that he had “a lot of great interviews’’ with them during the draft process.
Still, Schneider said the Seahawks were close to trading down and adding more picks.
“We thought we were close and then we lost something right at the end,” Schneider said. “We were literally like maybe five minutes away. … (But) we’re excited to just take our guy. I know you guys get tired of us saying like ‘the best available player’ and all that, but it was. He was the guy.”
Eskridge will compete with holdovers on the roster such as Freddie Swain, Penny Hart and John Ursua to be the third receiver after Lockett and Metcalf. David Moore and Phillip Dorsett departed in free agency.
Eskridge played inside and outside at Western Michigan and intimated he could be used all over the field by the Seahawks. He played in the slot 30% of the time last season at Western Michigan, according to Sports Info Solutions.
He also took up kick returning last season and had 15 returns for 432 yards and a touchdown and was one of just 11 players in FBS with three or more kickoff returns of at least 40 yards. He lead all of the Football Bowl Subdivision with 213 all-purpose yards per game and was the only player in the nation to average more than 200 per game in being named the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year.
Cornerback D.J. Reed and Swain were the Seahawks’ primary returners when last season ended as Lockett’s days as the main returner have passed.
“Even if they didn’t talk to me about it playing some special teams, I’m going in there making a name for myself, regardless,’’ he said.
Eskridge also played some cornerback at Western Michigan, starting games at both receiver and corner in 2019 against Syracuse and Georgia State before his clavicle injury. He was also listed as a starter at cornerback in games against Monmouth and Michigan State. He solely played receiver as a senior in 2020.
Eskridge called the injury the best thing and worst thing that happened to him saying that while it was tough to sit out the rest of the season, “I learned much more about myself. I learned that I am more than a football player.’’
The pick of Eskridge ended a long wait for the Seahawks, which traded their first- and third-round picks to the Jets last July for safety Jamal Adams.
At No. 56, Eskridge becomes the sixth-highest drafted receiver in team history and the second-highest of the Schneider/Carroll era behind only Paul Richardson, who was taken 45th overall in 2014.
Eskridge finished his career with 122 receptions on 215 targets, according to Sports Info Solutions, for 2,263 yards and 15 touchdowns.
He was especially dangerous after the catch, something that surely caught the eye of new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. According to SIS, 488 of Eskridge’s 784 yards last season came after the catch.
Waldron comes to Seattle from the Rams, whose offense emphasizes getting the ball to receivers in space and letting them run and also at times using receivers as rushers.
“He definitely is a guy that we can hand him the football, we can flip it to him, we can do things with him behind the line of scrimmage,” Carroll said. “He’s run very effectively on reverses and stuff like that, and the returns show that as well. We were looking for a receiver that would have all of that kind of versatility and he was really an exciting one to get.”
The pick was the Seahawks’ only selection in the first three rounds of the draft, and that led to speculation the team might want to trade down as it often has in the Schneider/Carroll era.
The Seahawks will have picks 129 and 250 when the draft concludes Saturday with rounds four through seven.
If the Seahawks keep just three picks, it will be the fewest in team history and tied for the fewest of any NFL team since 1999. Their previous low in picks was five in 1994 and 1997.
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