‘Faster Than Before’: Stokes Feeling Healthy, Confident

After missing most of last season due to hamstring injuries, Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes has been working with the starters during OTAs.
Packers cornerback Eric Stokes during training camp in 2022.
Packers cornerback Eric Stokes during training camp in 2022. / Samantha Madar/USA TODAY
In this story:

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur tried to hit the brakes, but it was too late. Cornerback Eric Stokes, who had injuries stomp on the brakes of his career the last two years, is healthy to start organized team activities.

“I think he’s as good as I’ve ever seen him, both mentally and on the field,” LaFleur said after Wednesday’s practice at Packers OTAs. “I want to temper the expectations with that, but I really mean that.”

“He’s out there competing each and every day. He looks fully healthy. He’s doing a great job of challenging our wide receivers. I think you see that personality is back. That’s tough on players when they’re going through an offseason not having opportunity to really build upon their bodies when you’re just focusing on rehabbing and getting healthy. He’s had a chance to really develop his body. He looks in great shape. I think the play says the same.”

Stokes, who has been running with the starters through two weeks of OTAs, said he “feels great.”

It’s been a while.

“Everybody got a little story,” he said after practice. “Everybody got a little thing but, man, this just taught me so many lessons, taught me so many different little things. I can’t wait. I can’t wait. This is a new Eric. Well, I wouldn’t say new. He’s pretty much the same, but just a better, experienced, more it is what it is type of stuff.”

A first-round pick in 2021, Stokes had an impressive rookie season. Thrust into a huge role following Jaire Alexander’s shoulder injury, he started 14 games and had a team-leading 14 passes defensed. Among the 16 rookie cornerbacks who played at least 200 coverage snaps, Stokes ranked No. 1 in completion percentage allowed and forced incompletions, according to Pro Football Focus.

However, a foot injury limited him to nine games in 2022 and hamstring injuries held him to three games in 2023. He had zero passes defensed even while starting 11 games.

Stokes and receiver Christian Watson have met with a specialist in Madison to get a handle on their hamstring problems. Stokes said the foot injury that required season-ending surgery in 2022 led to the hamstring injuries that resulted in two stints on injured reserve in 2023.

“My foot wasn’t as strong as it needed to be, so that’s why it put more pressure on my hamstring, my calf and all that stuff,” Stokes said.

“It’s crazy how everything’s connected in your body and all this stuff. If one area’s weak, the other parts of your body are going to try to take control or put more workload on it. So, that’s pretty much what’s been going on. My hamstring was taking so much workload that it just kept messing up.”

Stokes spent the offseason “attacking my legs” in hopes of restarting a career that began with such promise.

“I feel like I’m faster than I was before,” Stokes said.

That’s saying something, considering his 4.31 time in the 40-yard dash at the 2021 Scouting Combine made him one of the fastest players in his draft class.

“Oh, my confidence still high,” Stokes said. “At the end of the day, I know what I can do. Everything else, it is what it is. I just had to get back healthy. Now that I’m back healthy, everything else is good.”

As he battled back from the foot injury, Stokes missed the first five games of last season. In his season debut at Denver, he suffered a hamstring while covering a punt. Thus, after four snaps, it was back to the injured list. After missing seven games, Stokes surprisingly moved right into the starting lineup. In games against Tampa Bay and Carolina, he was charged with three touchdowns.

Another hamstring injury ended his season.

While the Packers didn’t exercise the fifth-year option on Stokes’ contract, they also didn’t draft a cornerback until adding Kalen King in the seventh round. So, the belief in Stokes remains strong – which is why he’s been lining up opposite Alexander with the No. 1 defense to start the offseason.

“I’m very excited for Eric Stokes,” Alexander said. “He’s come out here in these OTAs and he’s performed really well. He’s battled through a bunch of adversity as we know. Just for him to come out every day and just work to get better, that’s just a blessing in itself. So, I’m very proud of him.”

One of the most upbeat personalities on the roster, Stokes admitted it was hard to stay positive.

Now, the smile is back on his face. Stokes is excited about being healthy. He’s excited about playing under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. He’s excited about a fresh start.

“I ain’t had this much fun since my rookie year,” he said. “After that, it was just a lot being in my own head, dealing with a lot. Now, it’s just, it is what it is. That’s the biggest thing that I learned. It is what it is. This is football. This is a little kids’ game, at the end of the day. I’m going to mess up, I’m going to make mistakes, but just go out there and make it 110 miles per hour. Everything else, I can live with it.”

More Green Bay Packers News

Packers OTAs: Colby Wooden’s new position | Jordan Love’s late-game mistakes | Anders Carlson on competition | ‘Elite’ Rasheed Walker? | Why did AJ Dillon re-sign? | Injury updates | Christian Watson’s asymmetry 

Latest news: PFF’s OT rankings | Tom Brady on Jordan Love | Top 10 plays | Bounce-back Alexander? | Fifth-year options | An athletic roster | A complete roster | Help at cornerback? 

Bill Huber


Bill Huber, who has covered the Green Bay Packers since 2008, is the publisher of Packer Central, a Sports Illustrated channel. E-mail: packwriter2002@yahoo.com History: Huber took over Packer Central in August 2019. Twitter: https://twitter.com/BillHuberNFL Background: Huber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he played on the football team, in 1995. He worked in newspapers in Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells and Shawano before working at The Green Bay News-Chronicle and Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1998 through 2008. With The News-Chronicle, he won several awards for his commentaries and page design. In 2008, he took over as editor of Packer Report Magazine, which was founded by Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, and PackerReport.com. In 2019, he took over the new Sports Illustrated site Packer Central, which he has grown into one of the largest sites in the Sports Illustrated Media Group.