On August 8, 2020, the Mid-American Conference became the first FBS league to cancel its fall football season. Exactly 48 days later, the conference reversed its decision and launched 6-game schedules for each member program.
In terms of NFL Draft stock, no player benefited more from those six games than D’Wayne Eskridge.
The Bluffton, IN native wrapped up his college career with a season for the ages. In six games, Eskridge amassed 768 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, finishing over the 110-yard mark on five occasions. He nearly surpassed his prior season-best of 776 yards in roughly half of a season and he scored more touchdowns in 2020 than in his previous 37 games combined. At 23.3 yards per reception, the speedster extended his streak to three consecutive seasons averaging more than 20 per touch.
Adding a return specialist element to Eskridge’s game was a brilliant move by Western Michigan’s coaching staff because watching him maneuver in the open field was like watching a spin artist painting on a canvas. Fielding 17 kickoffs, Eskridge averaged 27.5 yards per return and took one to the house in a victory over Northern Illinois.
But prior to the 2020 season, Eskridge’s college career was an interesting roller coaster ride. His senior season was originally slated for 2019, and for the first time in his stint in Kalamazoo, he wasn’t primarily operating out of a wide receiver role. Western Michigan moved Eskridge to cornerback for that season, where he excelled as the Broncos’ top corner with four pass deflections and 10 solo tackles. He still maintained a role within the offense that fall and on a 43-yard reception against Syracuse — his third catch of the season — Eskridge suffered a season-ending clavicle injury. Although receiver is his main calling, he was very serviceable in his brief stint as a defensive back.
From 2016 through 2018, Eskridge took the field as a wide receiver. As a freshman, he operated behind former top 5 NFL Draft pick Corey Davis on the depth chart and caught 17 passes for a Western Michigan team that finished ranked in the top 15. When head coach Tim Lester arrived on campus in 2017, Eskridge rose into a starting role and caught 68 passes for 1,282 yards and eight touchdowns over his next two seasons. His breakout night occurred during that timespan when he hauled in eight receptions for a career-high 240 yards and two touchdowns in a shootout versus Syracuse. That would be one of two 200-yard games as a Bronco, with the other occurring last fall in a 212-yard, 3-touchdown performance against bitter rival Central Michigan.
What makes the 5’9”, 190 pound receiver lethal is his speed. As a senior in high school, Eskridge was named Mr. Track and Field for the state of Indiana. The former sprinter and long jump expert clocked in a 4.38-second 40-yard dash time at his Pro Day. That speed is evident in his route running and allows him to become dangerous in both the screen game and on the deep ball.
Eskridge excels at making an initial move at the line of scrimmage to gain separation, especially in press coverage. In college, his go-to route was the quick slant on an RPO, and Western Michigan converted that play into several touchdowns last season.
Mama, there goes that man.— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) November 5, 2020
TOUCHDOWN, WMU! D'Wayne Eskridge goes the distance on a 76-yard scamper through the Akron defense.
It's quickly getting out of hand, with WMU up 37-13 with 13:00 to go 3Q. pic.twitter.com/F2EK2T5QvS
As someone with his magnitude of speed, a touchdown is always a feasible outcome when the ball enters his hands. Four of his nine total touchdowns last year stemmed from a distance of 70 yards or greater. Once Eskridge makes a move on a defender and is presented with an open field, six points is the likely scenario.
Just a little sample of what D'Wayne Eskridge has to offer. pic.twitter.com/wkzmTmKdTC— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 25, 2021
An underrated component of Eskridge’s game is his ability to high point the ball. This was perfectly demonstrated in a wild comeback win over Toledo last November when he made a leaping grab at the 2-yard line to set Western Michigan up in scoring position. When factoring this in with his route running ability, his knack for YAC, and his ability to play at a different speed than those around him, Eskridge is one of the premier wide receivers of this draft class.
Versatility is also a key attribute to look at when evaluating Eskridge. He dominated in two facets of the game — offense and special teams — while instantly experiencing success in the third facet on defense without ample experience at cornerback. After his showing on special teams in 2020, it is likely Eskridge initiates his NFL career as a kickoff return specialist in addition to a wide receiver role. His Twitter handle is @allaroundplays, which couldn’t be more fitting for a playmaker who routinely cashes in short receptions and kickoff returns for 70-yard touchdowns.
He is a likely day two prospect with potential landing spots ranging from the middle of the second round to the third round. Eskridge should be the first offensive player selected from the MAC and is projected to be around the 7th to 11th wide receiver off the board. After an electrifying career at Western Michigan, the standout playmaker is days away from continuing his craft with an NFL franchise.