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2021 NFL Draft: Introducing D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan’s Swiss Army knife

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NCAA Football: Syracuse at Western Michigan Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Versatile players who can make an impact on every down are all the rage in today’s NFL, and no prospect in the 2021 NFL draft class fits that description better than Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge.

A dynamic playmaker who’s lined up at cornerback and wide receiver for the Broncos, Eskridge recently spoke exclusively with MCM about how he’s stayed in shape throughout COVID-19, what his best position fit is at the next level, and which NFL players he models his game after.

JM: How have you managed to stay in shape and keep up with your weight training throughout the pandemic?

DE: My dogs really helped me out (laughs). They have to be outside early in the morning. I made a schedule built around that. I take them outside first thing in the morning. I come right back home and before I step in the house, I have to get a workout in. I’ve made a habit out of that. It really helped me create and stick to a schedule. I don’t have too much to do right now, so staying in shape is a must.

JM: You take “a dog is a man’s best friend” to another level.

DE: Oh yeah, for sure I do (laughs). I have to thank my dogs for keeping me grounded and helping me stick to a routine.

JM: I love that. You played a lot of cornerback last season, but the plan was to move you back to wide receiver this year. Tell us about that.

DE: I played both positions last season, cornerback and receiver. This year, things were gravitating towards me spending most of my time at receiver as you said. I was definitely going to play more receiver than cornerback this year. I was perhaps going to play some defense exclusively on third down this season, most likely at the nickel position.

That was the plan. We discussed that with the defensive coordinator and they were comfortable with that. The offensive staff had a bigger plan for me.

JM: How have you enjoyed your time at cornerback? Do you feel like its made you a better receiver?

DE: Playing corner definitely made me a better receiver. It goes hand in hand. Playing receiver definitely made me a better corner as well. Playing corner was a lot of fun. I enjoy the physicality that comes with it. I had a great time over there. It was a smooth transition for me. The coaching staff helped me make the move. I had a lot of support both on and off the field. They really had me feeling like a corner there for a bit. It was a fun time.

JM: Do you feel like you gained an advantage at all?

DE: I would say so. I’ve been playing receiver for about four years now. I definitely play it differently now. The experience at corner definitely changed my mindset. The reps in practice were so valuable. Playing corner allows me to think differently now that I’m lining up full-time at receiver again. The game slowed down for me. I understand how to read coverages.

JM: That’s what I like to hear. I want to run through a few accolades. First of all, congratulations on being named to the Senior Bowl’s watchlist. What did that mean to you, and would you like to receive an invite?

DE: Thank you so much. It means a lot to me. Western Michigan is on the map, but it’s still considered a small school. That can be tough sometimes. Some of those bigger school guys, they’ve probably experienced more than we have. It was definitely an honor to have [Senior Bowl director] Jim Nagy put me on that list. I think very highly of him and I believe he thinks highly of me as well.

It’s definitely a blessing to be on that list. I got hurt last year and only played four games. I know a lot of guys that didn’t get the opportunity to be on that list due to an injury. I’m in a great position right now.

JM: I love that. How are you feeling right now from a health perspective?

DE: I feel great. I feel fast, strong and healthy. I feel explosive and physical. I’m mentally strong as well. I wish we were playing football right now (laughs). It was going to be a special season for me.

JM: We wish you had that chance. You also made Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” which was huge for you. Everybody in the draft community looks forward to that list.

DE: I felt great about that one. It was a blessing to be on that list as well. Being included on that list really showcased my versatility. That list speaks directly to the NFL (laughs). From a business standpoint, I was of course excited to be mentioned on there.

JM: What’s your favorite part of playing the receiver position?

DE: I was going to play the “X” position this year. I was gonna be the general of our offense. I was really looking forward to that. I was going to play a big role and it was gonna be a lot of fun. I wanted to lead the young guys and help my teammates reach their potential.

I really enjoy practice. You don’t see it all the time, but you’re really getting better every day. That whole time we weren’t practicing, that was tough. As a receiver group, we call ourselves “alphas” in that room. We love to practice and get better. We were growing every single day. Getting better on a daily basis is my favorite part.

JM: That’s great. Do you have a favorite route to run?

DE: I enjoy running anything that’s vertical. I really like the vertical stop route. Everybody thinks because I run a 4.30, all I’m gonna run is a go route or a post route. I definitely get them to bite on that vertical stop route. It’s always good to get those guys worried about keeping up with my speed before I break them down (laughs). They have to respect the deep ball.

JM: That’s smart of you. Are there any NFL players that you enjoy watching tape on, and perhaps model your game after?

DE: I watch a lot of Tyreek Hill tape. He has amazing speed. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I model my game after his though. There’s a lot that comes with speed. I definitely pay close attention to his tendencies. I try to study different situations he’s put in and how he handles them. That’s been more helpful to me than trying to copy his routes or anything like that.

He’s a sweeper. He’s so good at running fast and getting himself into an open area. Of course there’s some technique involved as well, but he really runs like a wild animal out there (laughs). I definitely wanna gravitate my game towards something like that. I wanna be able to get to the right spot at the opportune time. He does that at an elite level. As long as I have a connection with my quarterback, things are going to trend in that direction for me.

JM: That’s a terrific answer. I have a two-part question for you because you’ve played on both sides of the ball. Who’s the best cornerback you’ve ever gone up against? On the flip-side, you’ve also played as a cornerback. Who’s the best receiver you’ve had to defend?

DE: That’s a great question. The first corner that comes to mind is Sean Murphy-Bunting. He’s with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now. He played his college ball at Central Michigan. He’s a very good corner. He’s outrageously patient. There are no false steps to his game. Everything I did, he was right there with me. It was very frustrating. If you cut the tape on, you’ll see that he’s a great player.

As for the best receiver I’ve ever played against, I would probably say Jayden Reed. He’s at Michigan State now, but I used to practice against him every day when he was my teammate here at Western Michigan. This was when I just made the switch to corner. We went into spring ball and he was playing the “X” spot for us. We had some great battles. I lost a lot of those battles in the beginning because he’s such a good receiver. He’s super fast. He really helped me become a better corner. He tested me in every area. He tested my patience, speed and versatility (laughs). I give him a lot of credit for that.

I have another teammate at the receiver position, Skyy Moore. He’s a great player as well. He also helped me make the transition to corner. He has a big motor on him. Those are the two best receivers I’ve ever played against.

JM: I appreciate how much thought you put into that answer, and I’ve really appreciated your time today, D’Wayne. This has been a terrific conversation. In closing, what’s next for D’Wayne Eskridge?

DE: I have several options on the table at the moment. There’s a couple of questions that I need to get answered before I can truly make my decision. I could stay here or opt out and declare for the 2021 NFL draft, for example. I have several options. Right now, the only move is for me to stay in shape so that I can control the things I can control. I can’t give you a clear answer on what’s next for me because I don’t really know yet.