SEATTLE -- NFL teams usually don't make public comparisons between their draft picks and current players, wary of the unrealistic expectations that can create. So when Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider was telling reporters about Western Michigan wide receiver D'Wayne Eskridge after taking him in the second round, he stopped himself just as he was about to liken Seattle's top pick to someone else.
"You can tell, he's got -- I don't want to compare him to people, so I guess I won't," Schneider said. 'But he's got some really cool attributes."
Schneider wouldn't reveal the mystery player when pressed, so we can only take educated guesses as to who he had in mind.
Here's one: Tyreek Hill.
To be sure, Eskridge would have been long gone by the time the Seahawks took him at No. 56 overall if it was certain that he'll have the type of career Hill has had for the Kansas City Chiefs. The point is that Hill might be the most well-known example of both the style of receiver the Seahawks have in the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Eskridge and the ways they can use him.
"Just a really explosive guy," Schneider said of Eskridge. "Can really throttle his speed. Tough. We're getting a guy that can play a number of different positions. He's a kickoff returner, could be a gunner ... We're getting a guy that's competitive, hungry, intense. He's got some dog to him."
Eskridge's speed and versatility were perhaps the two attributes that compelled the Seahawks to take him with the first of their league-low three picks. He was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player after averaging 213 all-purpose yards (second-most in FBS) as a receiver and kickoff returner during his school's six-game 2020 season.
He also filled in at cornerback in 2019 before a clavicle injury ended his season, displaying a physicality that the Seahawks believe will serve him well in run-blocking assignments and potentially punt coverage. They admired the team-first attitude Eskridge displayed in playing both ways, especially since he had shown NFL potential as a receiver.
Coach Pete Carroll's mention of the creative ways the Seahawks can get Eskridge the ball on offense sounded similar to how the Chiefs use Hill.
"He definitely is a guy, as you can tell in the highlights that you have seen, that we can hand him the football, we can flip it to him, we can do things with him behind the line of scrimmage," Carroll said. "He's run very effectively on reverses and stuff like that, and the returns show that as well. We we're looking for a receiver that would have all of that kind of versatility and he was really an exciting one to draft."
That desire involved more than so-called gadget plays. It was also about what Seattle's offense will demand of receivers under new coordinator Shane Waldron.
The Seahawks haven't revealed much about the system Waldron is bringing in, whether out of secrecy or because they won't entirely know until they get on the field. But it's no mystery that they plan to go up-tempo more frequently, something Waldron knows well from his four seasons as a Rams assistant under Sean McVay and something Russell Wilson has always loved doing.
Since offenses don't substitute in hurry-up mode, receivers have to know and do more.
"We want guys that can do everything because our guys do have to block, we use them in splits and motions and all kinds of positions, maybe [with] more emphasis than we have in the past," Carroll said. "That calls for these guys to be able to do a number of things. That means they have to recognize fronts and who's who, linebackers and DBs and all that kind of stuff as they carry out their assignments.
"I think you'll see in time as you guys get a chance to see D'Wayne, you're going to see that he can do all of that. He's a physical kid. He'll be able to be a well-rounded player. If you look back with what they've built into the Rams system with Cooper Kupp and Robert [Woods], they have had guys on the field that stay out there because they can do a little bit of everything."
Carroll said that Waldron has stressed the importance of always having at least three legitimate receiving threats on the field in passing situations to make it harder for defenses to take any one option away. It's why they considered former Rams tight end Gerald Everett an important addition in free agency.
In four seasons under McVay, the Rams ran more plays with three receivers on the field than any NFL team, according to ESPN charting. That has been a hallmark of recent Seahawks offenses -- they ran the fifth-most such plays over the same span -- and might be more of one under Waldron. It's one more reason it makes sense to invest in another receiver, even though they have one of the league's best duos in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
One source said the Seahawks believe the Rams, who took Louisville receiver Tutu Atwell at No. 57, would have taken Eskridge instead had Seattle passed on him at 56.
Eskridge will be the No. 3, provided he beats out Freddie Swain and any veteran the Seahawks add to compete for that role. If so, there might may not be another NFL team with more speed among its top three receivers than Seattle. Lockett has been one of the league's best deep threats the past three seasons even though he says his 2016 leg injury has left him a half a step slower than he was when he entered the league with a 4.40 time in the 40-yard dash. Metcalf runs a 4.33 and is competing in the 100-meter dash at a USA Track and Field event this weekend.
The Seahawks officially timed Eskridge at 4.39.
"He brings elite speed, he brings elite explosiveness, short-area quickness, which allows him to be such a great yards-after-the-catch guy," said Jake Heaps, a former Seahawks quarterback who is now Wilson's personal position coach and a host on 710 ESPN Seattle.
"He reminds me a lot of Tyreek Hill in terms of not only just their play but their build. Small guy, 5-9, 5-10 but built extremely well, built muscular, built very strong so they can break tackles and run through tackles, somebody that is a factor over the middle of the field as well."