With Seahawks training camp kicking off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2021 season. Today we're looking at the competition for the No. 3 receiver spot with rookie D'Wayne Eskridge expected to be a big factor, and tomorrow we'll focus on the competition at strongside linebacker.
Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf give the Seahawks one of the best receiving duos in the NFL, yet Seattle still used its first pick, and one of only three picks overall in the 2021 draft, to add another receiver, Western Michigan's D'Wayne Eskridge.
So why draft a receiver when your starters are as good as Metcalf and Lockett? Because in today's NFL, a team's No. 3 receiver is essentially another starter, whether or not he's listed as such on a depth chart.
And each of the past three seasons, Seattle's No. 3 receiver in terms of catches and receiving yards, as well as in playing time in two of those three years, has been David Moore, who left this offseason as a free agent, signing with Carolina. Also leaving in free agency is Phillip Dorsett II, a player who in training camp last summer looked poised to unseat Moore from that third receiver role before a foot injury ended his season before it ever got going.
With those two moving on, the Seahawks were heading into 2021 with no obvious answer for the No. 3 receiver role—though Freddie Swain is a strong candidate having played well in limited opportunities as a rookie—and that's why it wasn't a surprise to see Seattle pick a receiver despite the presence of Lockett and Metcalf in the starting lineup.
Of course, Eskridge will have to earn in camp whatever role he gets this season, but it's also safe to assume that the Seahawks wouldn't have used a second-round pick on him if they didn't think he could contribute to Seattle's offense right away. And while Eskridge missed a good portion of OTAs and minicamp with a toe injury, he has impressed his coaches in the limited time he has had on the field.
"He looks totally legit to be a competitive aspect of this team, I don't have any question," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "His strength, his hands, his catching range, his explosiveness, he's really fast. He had no trouble with any of the transitional stuff. They did not run as sophisticated of a passing game (at Western Michigan) as we have here, so we didn't see stuff, but it wasn't because he couldn't run it; they just didn't ask their guys to run the stuff. He can do everything."
Eskridge brings to the Seahawks unique speed and athleticism that should make him a big-play threat on offense as well as special teams, should Seattle decide to use him in the return game, but there's more to playing receiver than just big-play ability, which is why Eskridge will have to earn his role. Freddie Swain, a sixth-round pick last year, had a solid rookie campaign, catching 13 passes for 159 yards and two scores in limited playing time. Penny Hart, meanwhile, was on the roster last year mostly for his play on special teams, but he was a standout in offseason workouts, and in minicamp in particular, showing he too could be a factor in the receiver competition.
And while finding a strong No. 3 receiver is important for the Seahawks, they do head into the season with the luxury of having a duo as prolific as Metcalf and Lockett leading the way. Last season, Metcalf and Lockett became just the second receiving duo in franchise history to post 1,000-yard seasons in the same year, and Metcalf broke Steve Largent's season receiving yards record with 1,303, while Lockett broke the receptions record with 100. And there's no reason to think those two should do anything but improve. Since taking on a bigger role in the offense in 2018, Lockett, who recently signed a contract extension, has piled up 239 catches, 3,076 yards and 28 touchdowns, making 2020 his best season yet. Metcalf, meanwhile, is still only 23 years old, so there's room for him to grow as a receiver despite such an impressive start with 141 catches, 2,203 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Thanks to that prolific duo, the Seahawks know they're going to be very good at receiver regardless of how anything else plays out. If Eskridge or Swain or someone else can prove to be a difference maker as the No. 3 receiver, then Seattle's passing game will become even more formidable.
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