Western Michigan may not be considered a football hotbed, but former Broncos like Taylor Moton, Greg Jennings and Corey Davis have made a big impact on the NFL. D’Wayne Eskridge is hopeful that his name is one day mentioned in conjunction with those others.
The wide receiver traveled to Mobile, Alabama in January with the intention of proving that he could play alongside talents from traditional powers such as Alabama and LSU.
“It wasn’t really so much proving to anyone else, it was just proving it to myself,” Eskridge said. “Going into it, I knew that I was supposed to be there. I am training around some of the best guys here with [Alabama WR] Devonta Smith, [Louisville WR] Dez Fitzpatrick, [UCLA RB/WR] Demetric Felton. Training with them and just building the confidence going down there, I knew that I was supposed to be there; just doing my job is all I needed to do.”
Eskridge is currently rated the No. 15 wide receiver and 104 prospect overall. His performance at the Reese’s Senior Bowl earned a bump up in the upcoming prospect rankings update. Few players can match Eskridge’s speed — he is hoping to run a 4.29 second 40-yard dash at Western Michigan’s Pro Day — and play-making ability after the catch.
In my three-round mock draft, he was a choice of the Patriots at No. 46 overall.
A year earlier, the Indiana native could hardly envision being in that position.
“Before coming into this season, I was ready to go seventh round to undrafted,” he said. “My whole thing was just getting on a team and staying on a team, because I know my ability and how high my potential is.
“I really tell [teams] that I am a go-getter. It is a lot of stuff that I don’t even like to explain about what I do because I just like to do it. I don’t like to tell you about what I am doing; put me in there and I am going to do it 10 times out of 10, even if I lose. There is no breaking me. I am always going to give the best effort that I can give. I don’t know any other speed other than the fastest speed that I have. My goal this year is to make an impact on special teams and my position group. I know a lot of guys coming into the league don’t feel that way, but it is just the little things like that is going to help separate myself.”
In 2019, Western Michigan found itself in a pinch and asked Eskridge to play on defense in addition to his responsibilities on offense and special teams.
“I was literally playing both sides. I was doing 1-on-1s. I was doing offense. I was doing defense,” he said. “I was switching from white jerseys to black jerseys during team periods. It took a lot more work because I had to grind at two different positions. They are counterintuitive to each other really. I had great coaches that were pushing me and were willing to put in the extra work too. When you are learning corner, it is a big difference from running forwards to moving backwards. I had to break down a whole lot of tendencies, but I just credit it to people that were helping me and the work that I put in.”
Few players can play both sides of the ball and perform each at a high level.
“It just shows how versatile and dynamic I am really. I don’t feel like there is just one position that I can be great at. I feel like I can move around a lot and play at a high level. Playing corner taught me moreso about receiver than corner; just the ability to recognize how much of a disadvantage I was playing corner against some of the receivers, what could I do to make myself vulnerable and make myself get on my heels when a wide receiver does specific things. I took that to my game playing wide receiver. It made me more calm. I can recognize coverages a lot better. The speed of the game slowed down and now I am comfortable.”
Eskridge averaged over 20 yards per catch each of the past three seasons. In a condensed 2020 season, he caught 34 passes for 784 yards and eight touchdowns. A broken collarbone brought his junior season to an abrupt end.
“It was definitely difficult,” he said. “At the same time, I could say that is the best growth of my life during my injury. It was tough on me the first couple of weeks. I couldn’t really do anything. I had to have surgery. Once I was back moving and had a goal to attain, I learned a lot about myself. I accepted that I was more than a football player. If it was the end that day and I couldn’t play football again, I would accept that and be able to be successful with football and that just made football a lot more fun for me. I put a lot on the line out there and it helped me grow really.”
After returning from injury, he was greeted with a once in a lifetime global pandemic.
“Going into the quarantine, that was kind of crazy,” Eskridge said. “It was horrible timing coming off of that because I was ready to start the season and then they were shutting it down, bringing it back up and I just kept working. I knew the main goal. If I had to go into the draft that year without any film, I was willing to do that and I know that some team was going to get my best from me. It was just a lot of work and I am grateful for the whole process.”
During quarantine, he created memories with his friend and teammate — offensive tackle Jaylon Moore — that will not soon be forgotten.
“That’s my guy. He was my roommate for the last two or three years. He is a reflection of me,” Eskridge said of Moore, who also attended the Reese’s Senior Bowl. “We were the ones during quarantine making workouts out of nothing. We had a couple of weights and we were outside doing all kinds of stuff. He is just a reflection of me but in a bigger body.
“We had a curl board, medicine ball and stuff like that. I had Jaylon running like me. We were doing hills and stuff like that. I remember him not wanting to say anything to me because I wouldn’t let him get off the easy way. I took him through a lot of pain that year but it worked out for him.”