RENTON, WA - The Seahawks are entering the final day of rookie minicamp, where 31 young players have either gotten their first taste of the NFL or continue striving towards their dream of cracking a 53-man roster. Whatever the case may be, it shouldn't come as a surprise the team's first of a league-low three selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, receiver D'Wayne Eskridge, has been a standout among the group.
Coming off a brilliant six-game sample in a pandemic-shortened season at Western Michigan, the speedy Eskridge has kept his momentum going through his Senior Bowl and pro day performances, and now his first two days of NFL camp. Working against the team's fourth-round selection, cornerback Tre Brown out of Oklahoma, his small-school background didn't pale in the face of competition against a Power Five conference talent.
Besting Brown on a few reps during practice, Eskridge quickly earned the respect of his fellow draft-mate.
"Man, he's quick," Brown told reporters following the second day of camp Saturday afternoon. "He's also strong and he knows how to hold his line. ... He's a humble guy—he's one of the most humble guys I've ever met. When you have humbleness and competitiveness, man, it's hard to beat those things."
This wasn't the first time they've gone to battle against one another, however. At the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama this past January, the two eventual teammates squared off on multiple occasions. As Eskridge puts it, the intensity Brown brought back then is still very much present now.
"It's pretty much the same," Eskridge said with a smile. "He's a competitor, I'm a competitor. We just get out there and get after it every time we went against each other, so I always like going against him."
Brown wasn't the only one impressed by Eskridge's unique skillset, however. Head coach Pete Carroll raved about his new offensive weapon, whose 4.38-second speed creates a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses in conjunction with stars DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
"There's no question that he's a flyer," Carroll agreed. "He showed it right out of the chutes yesterday—his quickness and he's a very powerful guy. He's about 191 pounds, but he's built really strong and built really solid and you can see the explosiveness. He gets off the line of scrimmage really quickly and certainly has the burst. So it was really fun to see, it's what we were hoping to see, so we're pleased with the first showing."
From the Seahawks' perspective, perhaps the most exciting thing Eskridge brings to the table is his versatility. His combination of speed and agility appears to be a perfect match for the offensive philosophy of new play-caller Shane Waldron. But as he admits, there will be a learning curve for him as he grasps the new system.
"Yeah, it's definitely different. It's more complex than what I had in college," Eskridge explained. "But it's all, like, family-based, just putting everything into families. I just look forward to keep on learning."
Jet/fly sweeps have been a key part of the dominant Rams offense Waldron helped create over the past few years, and Eskridge, a former running back, will likely be the primary bell cow for Seattle on those calls. Inspired by the elite rushing talents of Adrian Peterson and Seahawks legend Marshawn Lynch, he's looking forward to the opportunity to have his number called behind the line of scrimmage.
"I've always been a running back at heart. I play the receiver [position] like a running back in a sense, when it comes to physicality and how fast I get in and out of stuff. I always love running backs—some of my favorite players in the NFL are running backs. So I just try to follow them and keep on doing what I do."
The run game isn't the only way he can be versatile for Seattle, however. Despite his 5-foot-9 stature, Eskridge split out wide 86.4% of the time in college. While he should get his fair share of action in the slot as well, the experience he has on the outside could help facilitate more inside opportunities for a player like Lockett.
"We're gonna have to uncover some of that flexibility as we go through it," Carroll stated. "Just today he was lining up in the slot, motioning around and moving around as well as playing outside... He's a really bright kid, he cares about the details and stuff already, he's made a big impression with Nate [Carroll] and the guys on the receiver side of things, so we'll see how things pan out."
Eskridge, who prefers to go by 'Dee' rather than D'Wayne, is already looking up to his peers in Seattle's stellar receiving corps. Watching Metcalf take part in the 100-meter dash at the USA Track and Field Golden Games and Distance Open last Sunday, the former track star says he felt inspired seeing his teammate compete against some of the fastest sprinters in the world.
"Yeah, I watched it," Eskridge said. "You know, he turned another leaf doing that. I feel like he's gonna set a trend for NFL players to come—you know, hopefully in the future I'll be able to follow his footsteps and be able to go out there and do something like he did."
As Eskridge embarks on the next chapter of his young football career, he'll be taking advantage of the NFL's newly relaxed rules when it comes to uniform numbers and don the No. 1. It's the number he wore in his final season at Western Michigan, switching from No. 7, which he negatively associates with the broken collarbone injury that abruptly ended his season in 2019.
Darrell Taylor, after missing his entire rookie season with a leg injury suffered in college, was also seen sporting a new number in camp. But unlike Taylor, who switched to No. 52 to honor his late mother, the No. 1 doesn't hold much significance for Eskridge.
"I'm not really too big into the No. 1. I only wore No. 1 last year because I didn't want to wear 7 anymore, so then I switched to 1 and then, you know, now I made a name for it and I'll keep continuing to do that."
The Seahawks certainly hope so. After an incredible start to their 2020 campaign, the offense slowly but surely became less efficient as the weeks went by. Eventually, their woes all came to a head in the team's early playoff exit against the Rams.
A major contributing factor to that was the lack of a dependable tertiary receiving option behind Metcalf and Lockett. They feel they've rectified that with the additions of tight end Gerald Everett and Eskridge. And based on the latter's performance in rookie minicamp thus far: so far, so good.