D’Wayne Eskridge was beaten on the play. Badly. For a brief moment, the concerns Eskridge had a few months earlier, when Western Michigan coach Tim Lester asked him to switch from receiver to cornerback, seemed valid.
After all, Eskridge was a running back at Indiana’s Bluffton High School and a slot receiver his first three seasons at Western Michigan. He had no experience at cornerback. “It was kind of tough,” he said during the early days of his position switch.
And there he was trailing his receiver down the left sideline, the victim of a double move during an early August scrimmage in 2019. Relying on instinct and athleticism, Eskridge then turned on the jets, read the receiver tracking the ball as he approached the goal line and proceeded to take a Superman leap from about the 4-yard line. His body fully extended like a diver entering a pool, Eskridge hung in the air for nearly 9 yards and disrupted the pass in the end zone.
“It’s a freak show kind of play,” said WMU receivers coach Greg Harbaugh Jr.
It’s a play Lester won’t forget. And one of the many highlights to be shared online in the moments after Seattle selected Eskridge with the 56th pick in the NFL Draft on April 30. “I mean, it was different,” Lester said. “That tells you everything you need to know about a guy as far as effort. He’s a worker.”
Eskridge’s career as a cornerback didn’t last long. But plays like the one he made in that scrimmage illustrated that, even though he initially had doubts, the reasons he was willing to give defense a chance were valid, too.
“It’s something I have to do for this team and something I gotta do for myself,” Eskridge would say of embracing a position switch, “because it can help me in the long run, too.”
Indeed, it can.
Before he was First-Team All-Mid-American Conference as a receiver in 2020, before he was the conference’s special teams player of the year, before he was one of the offensive stars of the Senior Bowl and before he was Seattle’s top pick in the 2021 draft, Eskridge spent months as a prospective NFL cornerback. And there is reason to believe that briefly moonlighting as a two-way player helped his development into an NFL wideout.
“I don’t know what happened his spring that he spent over there (on defense) but he understood patience and he understood everything,” Lester said. “It all came together.”
Eskridge, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound slot receiver from small-town Indiana, had quietly churned out a decent career as an inside receiver through three seasons with the Broncos. He started slow as a freshman but led the team in receiving yards as sophomore, then posted 776 receiving yards as a junior while averaging 20.4 yards per reception.
But NFL scouts weren’t sold. Multiple evaluators approached Lester ahead of Eskridge’s senior season advising that his best bet at making the league would be at cornerback.