If you haven’t been living under a rock, then you know the New England Patriots’ wide receiver situation stinks. Here is a quick rundown of the players they have signed on for 2021:
- Julian Edelman: 35 years old coming off two knee surgeries in the last seven months.
- Jakobi Meyers: Former UDFA with zero career touchdown receptions. (The most reliable option on the roster.)
- N’Keal Harry: Former first-round pick averaging two receptions for 20 yards per game.
- Matthew Slater: Special teamer.
- Gunner Olszewski: Special teamer.
- Devin Smith: Reserves/Future contract. Former second-round pick with only 15 career receptions.
- Isaiah Zuber: Reserves/Future contract. Four career touches.
- Kristian Wilkerson: Reserves/Future contract. Zero career targets.
To recap. That is eight players, four of which have never started a game at wide receiver. It’s hard to even consider this a wide receiving corps, it’s more of a collection of men who could conceivably run a route and catch a football.
The Patriots will no doubt be looking to make more than a few upgrades at the position, and the draft will be one of their final chances to do so until camp opens up. So let’s talk about a guy who could be the final piece in the new puzzle of Patriots wide receivers.
Name: D’Wayne Eskridge
Position: Wide Receiver
School: Western Michigan (RS-Senior)
Opening day age: 24
2019 stats: 6 games; 33 catches, 768 yards, 8 touchdowns
Size: 5’9”, 188 lbs
Expected round: Day 2
Strengths: Speed. D’Wayne Eskridge has it in spades.
A threat to break the game open from anywhere on the field, Eskridge has received comps to Tyreek Hill, and for good reason. His game closely resembles that of Hill who has made a name for himself by making defenses look foolish with his speed. Eskridge utilizes his speed in a number of different ways, not only by using it to create separation and yards after the catch, but it keeps defenses honest, which allows him to make plays underneath.
A slant savant, Eskridge averaged over 20 yards per reception for the last three seasons, mostly on quick slants that he turned into big gainers.
Eskridge is elite after the catch. The urgency to get up the field after the catch is almost as important as being a former 100m champ and faster than everyone else on the field.pic.twitter.com/EhE5nzluhr— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 8, 2021
Eskridge isn’t just a speed threat, though. He had the ability to show more at the Senior Bowl and did just that.
His footwork at the line of scrimmage was unmatched as he showed a consistent ability to turn the cornerbacks’ hips which in turn gave himself leverage at the top of routes. If there is anything you want out of a wide receiver in today’s NFL, that is it.
He also has a good understanding of leverage and what it means to receivers. There were a couple of instances when he had his way with defenders, forcing them to do what he wanted them to do, and dictating what happens on the rest of the play from there.
Weaknesses: It’s hard not to see how raw he is as a receiver right now. He plays more like a really smart backyard player than a professional. Now, that will obviously change at the next level, but the question is how soon and how much.
At his best, Eskridge’s footwork is unmatched. Unfortunately he has a tendency to get sloppy. He’ll add an extra step when he doesn’t need to and that leads to some ugly reps.
His size is also a question. Though we’ve seen receivers have success with similar builds, that success mostly comes in the slot. Receivers who have been successful doing what Eskridge does at that size are once-in-a-generation talents like Tyreek Hill and Desean Jackson. With a more limited route tree than those two, it will be hard for Eskridge to reach those heights, though he certainly has time to get there.
What would be his role? Eskridge would slot into the exact role that Damiere Byrd played for New England last season. A ‘Z’ receiver who has plenty of space to work while Meyers and Harry occupy the opposite side of the ball.
This was just mean. Uses hesitation to freeze the defender, gains ground and hits him with the rocker step. Never stood a chance. pic.twitter.com/ZyOKSgVkeI— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 8, 2021
His rare blend of speed and versatility could see the Patriots try to turn him into a player who plays in multiple spots. Eskridge may be better off developing as a true ‘Z’ receiver, though, allowing him to focus all of his efforts on one thing.
Does he have positional versatility? Although he is certainly capable of moving around the formation, Eskridge is still a pretty limited receiver when you look at him. The answer to this question depends on what path the Patriots will take with him. They could try him out at a bunch of different spots and see what he does best — carving out a specific role for him — or they could take the time to develop him at one spot.
If they fall down the road of N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, they will do the former, an option that has proven to be unreliable at best.
Who’s his competition? I may just start to copy and paste the following response into all receiver profiles. “The Patriots are nowhere near good enough at the receiver position to have one-on-one battles for spots. Training camp should serve as an open competition to all receivers, the five best make the team and fight it out every week for playing time. Plain and simple.”
Why the Patriots? Though Damiere Byrd showed flashes last season, the Patriots haven’t had a consistent speed threat at receiver in a few years. Byrd, Philip Dorsett, and even Chris Hogan have tried to fill that spot to mediocre results. A player with the abilities of Eskridge could finally show out in that role.
Why not the Patriots? Taking an unproven wide receiver from a Group of Five school in the second round sounds like a really specific horror story targeted towards Patriots fans. With so many needs on this roster, taking a flyer in Round Two is risky.
Verdict: HOWEVAH! Allowing fear to dictate your decision making process in the middle of a rebuild is a horrible way to do business. You gotta risk it to get the biscuit, and D’Wayne Eskridge is one buttery biscuit.