Next up in the Unpacking a Future Packers countdown is D’Wayne Eskridge. The Western Michigan University wide receiver checks in at number 76 in the countdown.
With the 52nd overall pick In the 2006 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers selected Greg Jennings, a wide receiver out of Western Michigan. In seven seasons with the Packers, Jennings caught 425 passes for 6,537 and 53 touchdowns.
Fast forward 15 years and the Broncos have another wide receiver that the Packers could target in the 2021 draft to see if magic strikes twice.
D’Wayne Eskridge is a speed merchant that came to WMU as a three-star recruit. As a freshman Eskridge saw limited playing time, catching one touchdown.
In 2017, Eskridge recorded 30 receptions for 506 yards and three touchdowns. The following season, Eskridge caught 38 passes for 776 yards and three touchdowns.
In 2019, Eskridge split time playing cornerback and wide receiver. Unfortunately, his season was cut short after just four games due to a season-ending clavicle injury.
This past season Eskridge enjoyed a breakout season of sorts, recording 25 receptions for 660 yards and seven touchdowns in just five games.
That breakout came as no surprise to WMU wide receiver coach, Greg Harbaugh Jr. The position coach saw the amount of work Eskridge was putting in to hone his craft.
“He’s always been a hard worker,” Harbaugh said. “He spent a ton of time on the details of playing wide receiver.
In 2015 when he was coming out of high school. I was a graduate assistant here. I spent a ton of time with him when he was being recruited. All he could do back then in 2016 was run a bubble and run fast. Now you fast forward and you see his maturation over the last four years.
This past year we moved him into the boundary. He was still a very raw receiver. I knew he had a ton of ability and a ton of talent. He still just ran fast. We had to do a really good job of slowing the game down for him. You have to hone in on the details and the technique of playing the position. You have to become a smarter football player and study film. That’s where he grew the most. He understood not only the big picture of understanding coverage and understanding why they’re doing that coverage. He studied a corner and studied how that corner was going to play him that week.”
The first thing that jumps out when Eskridge is on the field is his speed. According to the school website, Eskridge ran a 4.33 40-yard dash in 2018. While that speed makes Eskridge a terror for opposing defenses, Harbaugh said Eskridge’s greatest strength is his competitive nature.
“He doesn’t like to lose,” Harbaugh said. “The way the kid works, he’s competitive in everything he does. Whether that’s in the weight room or doing sprints.”
That competitiveness shows up on tape when you watch Eskridge block out on the boundary. Green Bay head coach, Matt LaFleur loves his wide receivers to be dogs out on the boundary.
“He plays his ass off out on the boundary,” Harbaugh said. “It sometimes hurts him because he gets so competitive. He needs to harness that competitiveness. He wants to beat the person so bad that he sometimes lets that impact him. He does enjoy the physical nature of run blocking.”
Eskridge quickness makes him a nightmare in space. He’s a home run threat anytime he has the ball in his hands. His ability after the catch is something that developed during his time at WMU, much like his route running.
“He has the ability to make people miss,” Harbaugh said. “He’s not going to be side to side, juking people like crazy. He’s a sudden one cut and go guy. He made a play against Ball State where we threw a little screen out the left. He gave a little hesitation to the guy and he went from zero to 60 and went sixty yards down the sideline.
He wasn’t always great after the catch. He had to learn to be sudden with his movements and understand how defenses were playing him. Instinctually he is so much better than he was as a true freshman. Now he’s able to put his foot in the ground and make one guy miss and go.”
You can’t teach speed, which Eskridge has in spades. That speed and athleticism will have teams lining up to draft Eskridge. While that speed is impressive, Harbaugh believes the dynamic receiver will impress teams during the interview process leading up to the draft.
“His leadership ability is off the charts,” Harbaugh said. “He’s never negative when it comes to playing the game or preparing for the game. He’s always looking at the brighter side. I’ve never seen a negative thing from him from a leadership standpoint. He legitimately is an exceptional leader. He can walk into any locker room and build a rapport and a connection with the people around him.
He knows his role and he knows his place. In 2020 he was the guy. He was the man. He had to lead the position group and he had to lead the team. In 2016 he had Corey Davis in there and Corey was the leader. Dee followed him. It’s very similar to what he’s going to walk into when he gets drafted. He’s going to walk into a locker room where he’s got vets and has guys he’s going to fall in line with. But with the way he works, guys are going to want to follow him.”
Fit with the Packers
With his size (5’9) Eskridge may not be on Green Bay’s draft board. That would be a mistake. Eskridge could help the Packers in a variety of ways.
He brings special teams value as a kick returner. In LaFleur’s offense he could play the Tyler Ervin gadget role. With his speed and ability to go zero to sixty, he’s a big play waiting to happen.
“Dee reminds me a lot of Saints Deonte Harris with the kick return ability and how they are trying to work him into the offense more,” Jarritt Orlando, the publisher of WesternMichigan.rivals.com said. “I think the future is bright for D’Wayne Eskridge.”
Eskridge’s best football is in front of him. He’ll get a chance to showcase his talents at the Senior Bowl in front of NFL Scouts. Eskridge recently checked in at No. 76 on Dane Brugler’s recent Top 100 Prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Eskridge could be a target for the Packers early on day three. With a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and throughout the draft process, Eskridge could see his stock soar.