No news is usually the best news when it comes to training camp. Unfortunately, as the Seahawks embarked on the 2021 season this past Wednesday, news did strike. Along with running back Travis Homer, rookie receiver D'Wayne Eskridge—the team's top selection in this year's draft at pick No. 56—landed on the physically unable to perform list with a big toe injury.
While coach Pete Carroll was fairly optimistic about Eskridge's chances of returning in the near future on Wednesday, it's certainly not the start anyone wanted. After all, the Western Michigan standout was the first of just three choices the Seahawks made in the 2021 NFL Draft, and now becomes the fifth-straight top pick of Seattle's to either enter camp with an injury or suffer one during it.
There aren't many silver linings to find in this development. However, Eskridge's absence presents a grand opportunity to the nine receivers vying for the attention of Seattle's coaching staff this summer. The list includes Penny Hart, Cody Thompson, John Ursua, Darvin Kidsy, Travis Toivonen, Darece Roberson and Aaron Fuller, as well as undrafted free agents Cade Johnson and Connor Wedington.
Heading into training camp, it was thought that only one—maybe two—roster spots would be up for grabs for these nine players. Now, with the uncertainty around Eskridge's injury, it may behoove the Seahawks to commit to carrying at least six wideouts into the 2021 season. And if Eskridge's rehab lingers into September, a third of the names listed above could potentially work their way onto Seattle's 53-man roster.
Hart seemingly leads the pack at the moment, followed by Johnson—perhaps the most talked-about UDFA the Seahawks have signed in some time. Both are dynamic players who can do a lot with the ball in their hands and offer special teams value. Wedington and Thompson are likely the second pair behind them, with the former making a name for himself as a special teams ace for Stanford and the latter impressing Carroll and his staff last summer.
But the player who may benefit the most from Eskridge's misfortunes is Roberson, a 5-foot-9 receiver who played his college ball at Division II school Wayne State from 2016-2019. Cut by the Cardinals in May, he earned the attention of NFL scouts after posting a 4.33-second 40-yard dash time at Florida Atlantic's pro day prior to the draft.
It's possible the team views Roberson as a hedge for Eskridge, signing him just two days before the news of the second-round pick's injury came down. This may particularly ring true in the return game, where Roberson's speed played up in college. He's also one of the very few receivers in this group to have legitimate experience returning both punts and kicks—the others being Kidsy and Hart.
This is lining up to be one of the more intriguing battles on Seattle's roster over the next month. Of course, the Seahawks would prefer to have their expected No. 3 receiver, Eskridge, healthy and ready to go, but Carroll certainly won't say no to more competition. At the very least, the latter halves of the team's three preseason games just got a bit more interesting.
For a deeper breakdown of the Seahawks' receiver battle, check out my article from earlier in the week.