D'Wayne Eskridge is the X-Factor: 'I can see it in guys’ faces: They’re scared'
Up to the draft, Go Long will chat with prospects flying under the radar with the chops to star on Sunday. First up: This speed demon out of Western Michigan. (He'll be joining our Happy Hour, too.)
D’Wayne Eskridge has three numbers in his head right now and if he hits these numbers on March 25, not only will everyone in the football world know his name, but he’ll also earn himself millions of dollars.
Four. Two. Nine.
As in, 4.29 in the 40-yard dash. That’s the goal for the 5-foot-9, 190-pound wide receiver at Western Michigan’s Pro Day. It’s realistic, too. He was laser-timed at 4.33 back in college.
Only 13 draft prospects ever ran in the 4.2’s at the NFL Combine so with the Combine cancelled this year due to Covid-19, NFL interest around pro days has soared. The days of premier starting wide receivers needing to be 6-foot-2, 220 pounds are over. Speed like this is coveted in all shapes, all sizes. And where did this speed come from? Where did Eskridge first set these 4.2 wheels into motion?
He thinks back to childhood, to when his family moved from Mississippi to Indiana and he played outside with his brother literally every day. When you’re outside this much, he says, you’re bound to “make fun out of nothing.”
Like, uh, chasing rabbits in his neighborhood.
Yes, he decides. That is where the speed comes from. The day he spotted a rabbit in a neighbor’s yard at nine years old.
“One day, we were just walking and I saw a rabbit,” Eskridge says. “It didn’t really run away from us instantly. So, I just snuck up on him a little bit and moved kind of slowly. And then the rabbit ran straight so as soon as I saw that, I ran and literally picked the rabbit up. Like I cornered it and caught the rabbit.”
A decade later, nobody could touch Eskridge in the Mid-American Conference. The pandemic made for an ultra-weird college football season so there’s a good chance you missed his six-game tear but there weren’t many players in the sport more dominant than Eskridge when was able to show off. He was a human blur in catching 33 passes for 768 yards with eight touchdowns and another 100-yard kick return. Needless to say, we’ll all be talking about the kid they called “Do-it-all D’wayne” a hell of a lot more if Western Michigan had played its normal 12-game schedule.
The good thing is, you can hang out with Eskridge himself tonight if you subscribe to Go Long. Eskridge will be joining our Zoom Happy Hour at 7 p.m. (EST). Log-in details are here. We’ll be welcoming prospects on for the next month and a half.
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Eskridge is not a conventional weapon at wide receiver running the same old route tree.
Rather, he just needs the ball in his hands. Somehow. His thinking is pretty simple play to play: “Get from Point A to Point B,” he says. Recruited as a running back out of high school — Eskridge ran for 1,020 yards and 16 scores as a senior at Bluffton (Ind.) H.S. — he treats the wide receiver position like a back. He describes himself as a “one-cut-and-go guy” with a punch of physicality.
After breaking his collarbone in 2019, Eskridge realizes he needs to be a bit more careful but, no, he's not suddenly becoming some finesse receiver. He’s trying to get north. Now. And, in 2020, Eskridge could sense fear in defenders.
“Whenever you put the ball in my hands,” Eskridge says, “I can see it in guys’ faces: They’re scared. I already have the advantage. So as soon as I have the ball, I’m going to just run. That’s it.”
As a two-way player himself in college, who played corner, Eskridge can tell DBs are scared when they don’t trust their technique anymore. He intricately studies them all on film. Every mannerism in every situation. As soon as corners start getting sloppy with each step, Eskridge knows he’s got ‘em. Always. They’re out of their element. They’re lunging and chasing and never catching him.
Undersized burners are all the rage in today’s NFL. A year ago, the first receiver drafted was Alabama’s Henry Ruggs, who’s only 5-foot-11, 188 pounds but ran a sizzling 4.27 at the Combine. Ruggs was not shy in our convo a year ago — he wanted to change the game. And so does Eskridge.
Do-it-all D’Wayne believes he, too, can be the forefront of this movement.
“It’s really the bang for your buck,” Eskridge says. “I’m going to be somebody that you have to give money to. I’m going to be doing everything! And I’m OK with that. That’s why I love the game. That’s why I’m blessed to have some of the abilities I have.”
No game showcased this better than Eskridge’s four-catch, 212-yard, three-touchdown clinic vs. Central Michigan:
What few people know about that night is that Western Michigan had to drive from Kalamazoo to Mt Pleasant the day of the game on a bus because of Covid precautions. The trip was about 2 ½ hours and, Eskridge adds, “it was horrible.” This felt like high school football, and then some. Players arrived, warmed up and couldn’t really get into the flow of the game for a while. Eskridge himself had a drop early. But once he got rolling? See ya.
The cornerback experience helps. Due to injuries and players transferring, Eskridge moved back ‘n forth from corner to receiver at Western Michigan. As a result, he says he knows how to get a corner “on his heels” because he’s been in their shoes. He knows what they hate at the line of scrimmage. Many corners in the MAC tried their damndest to get in his head, too.
Like Toledo. Eskridge recalls their corners going out of their way to try to get under his skin, almost as if they were coached that way.
“Talking was a big part of their game,” Eskridge says, pausing. “Yeah, it didn’t work out too well.”
No, it did not. Eskridge caught seven balls for 141 yards and a touchdown in a 41-38 win.
Mostly because he’s got plenty of spunk himself. The roots of this? Eskridge credits his Mom’s “grit” and “hotheadedness.” Typically, he won’t say anything to anybody on the field through the first quarter. He lets you jaw and jaw and bites his lip.
Then, it’s game on.
Then, he might burn you deep or light you up with a block in the run game.
“When that second quarter hits,” he says, “you better hope you did your job or took me out of the game because I’m coming at you full-fledged.
“I don’t back down from anybody.”
Eskridge knows what’s at stake: He’s determined to break the wheel in his family. He’s already the first to graduate from college and wants to do everything in his power to inspire more family members to do the same. Born in what he calls a “drive-through town” in Mississippi, there wasn’t much of anything. A couple factories. A couple fast food joints. No Wal-Mart. No grocery store after the Piggly Wiggly closed down. That’s one of the main reasons his family moved to Indiana.
His Mom could tell opportunities would be extremely limited in Winona, Miss.
“There’s a lot of projects down there,” Eskridge says, “so you get caught up in the street life and caught up in drugs maybe. From there, it’s downhill. You’re existing. You’re not really living. You’re kind of just existing at that point.”
On his Mom’s side, he has five siblings. On his Dad’s side, 10 siblings.
Eskridge often had to be the man of the house when he was learning how to be a man himself. He changed more diapers than he can remember.
He still found ways to have fun, too. When Eskridge was done chasing rabbits around the neighborhood, he fell in love with BMX bikes. He loved ripping down steep hills as fast as he possibly could and estimates that “90 percent” of the scars on his body came from wiping out at the bottom of those hills.
Now, he’s determined to pave the way for his younger siblings.
“If your family never went to college,” Eskridge says, “you consistently did the same things over and over again. How am I supposed to know that college is good for me? It’s breaking those curses and instilling the belief.
“I felt like I was the person to start the momentum for my family. That’s what I’m chasing: Generational wealth. It’s putting the bigger picture out there than the one that was painted.”
He’s still new to the wide receiver position — Eskridge admits he has a lot to learn. His timing is impeccable, though. Right now, NFL offensive coordinators covet the RB-type at wide receiver, a pure weapon they can spit the ball out to quickly via slants, screens, jet sweeps, whatever.
The standard, obviously, is Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill.
Mention Hill’s name and Eskridge doesn’t back down. He believes he can do the exact same stuff.
“Most definitely,” he says. “He’s a hell of a player. Top tier. But I definitely feel like some of the things he does, I do naturally. Just like him. And there are things I do naturally that he doesn’t do naturally. So I feel like I’m going to make a name for myself. I like the comparisons and everything but I’m playing for myself.
“I don’t want to be compared to anybody anymore.”
That may sound like a massive statement right now.
But after he runs that 4.2 in a couple weeks? Not so much.
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