While general manager Brian Gutekunst re-signed free agent Kevin King and tendered restricted free agent Chandon Sullivan, the Green Bay Packers enter this draft with a pronounced need at cornerback.
King has played only 52 percent of the defensive snaps in his four seasons. After a strong 2019 season, King regressed in 2020. But at least he played. Josh Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018, and Ka’dar Hollman, a sixth-round pick in 2019, weren’t even on the gameday roster in the playoffs. Taking a longer-range view, King will be a free agent again next offseason, as will Jackson and Sullivan. Those factors make getting a cornerback or two a priority in this draft.
Georgia’s Eric Stokes is our No. 6-ranked cornerback.
Get to Know Eric Stokes
There are track athletes who play football. And then there are football players who run track. Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes is the latter.
“People see his times and they think he’s a track kid playing football,” Frankey Iverson, Eastside’s track coach and the receivers coach for the football team, told Dawg Nation. “Eric didn’t start running track until his freshman year in high school. He doesn’t do any summer track. It’s just January to May for him; that’s when he runs track. Anything other than that is football. Track is just something we had him do to work on his speed.”
Stokes’ path to becoming one of the top cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft took flight about five years ago. In Spring 2016, then-Georgia defensive coordinator Melvin Tucker attended the Georgia state high school track meet as part of his recruiting duties. When someone by the name of Eric Stokes zoomed past him en route to winning state championships in the 100 and 200 meters, Tucker texted a member of Georgia’s staff.
“Who is this kid?” Tucker wrote.
Stokes, as it turns out, was a 160-pound running back at Eastside High School in Covington, Ga.
“Really?” Tucker thought to himself in a story told by The Athletic. “That kid’s probably not a tailback. But he does run a 10.3, and he is tall, and you can’t coach speed.”
But you can coach defensive back play.
A studious player with a high football IQ, Stokes redshirted in 2017, then got considerable playing time in 2018 due to injuries. He showed he was more than just a sprinter by breaking up nine passes while only starting three games.
“That’s a kid who has come a long way that really wasn’t a DB coming out of high school, he was just an athlete,” coach Kirby Smart said before Stokes won a starting job in 2019. “He’s very conscientious to doing things the right way. When you teach Stokes something, he listens and he applies it. When you combine that ability, you’ve got a pretty good player.”
Stokes started 13 games in 2019 and nine games in 2020. According to Sports Info Solutions, he allowed just 12.1 receiving yards per game in 2020, second-best in the draft class.
On targets between 10 and 19 yards, he allowed 5-of-8 passing, according to Pro Football Focus. On 20-plus-yard passes, he allowed 5-of-14.
“I know I relied on my speed a lot until I got here,” Stokes told Online Athens before the 2019 season. “They’ve tried to help me on my technique more since I’ve gotten here so I don’t have to rely so much on my speed.”
What will trouble scouts is his lack of ball production. He didn’t have any interceptions in his first two seasons. He had four in 2020 but, as noted by PFF, each of those came on either overthrows by the quarterback or stopped routes by the receiver.
At Georgia’s pro day, Stokes broke 4.3 in the 40, making him one of the fastest players in the draft. With excellent coverage numbers and above-average size, he’s one of the top corners in class.
“I believe I am one of the best. I want to solidify that I’m not that underrated,” Stokes said at pro day. “I need some type of respect. That’s all I’m asking for, but I’ve always been the underdog.”
Measureables, Stats and Scouting Report
Measureables: 6-foot 5/8, 194 pounds, 32 3/4-inch arms. 4.29 40, 4.36 shuttle, 38 1/2-inch vertical.
Stats and accolades: Stokes had zero interceptions and nine passes defensed in each of his first two seasons but four interceptions and eight passes defensed in nine games in 2020 to earn second-team all-SEC and some All-American honors. According to Sports Info Solutions, he ranks second in the draft class with 12.1 receiving yards allowed per game, third with 1.1 receptions allowed per game, fourth with 2.9 yards allowed per zone-coverage snap and eighth with 4.7 yards allowed per man-coverage snap. Oh, and he missed only one tackle (4 percent). He played a career-high 23 percent in the slot during his final season.
NFL Draft Bible says: Cat quick with ideal length, Stokes has the physical profile to match up against a variety of body types and skill-sets. Whether it is transitioning vertically or laterally, he is able to stay in phase out of his breaks. Stokes had several magnificent pass breakups during the last three seasons, playing through the man with high efficiency. He is incredibly pesky at the catch point, highlighting his competitiveness at the point of contact. Working on the vertical plane, Stokes can run with any wide receiver on the professional level. In the run game, Stokes can be hit or miss. Still possessing an underdeveloped frame, he has shown some instances of missed tackles on film. With four interceptions in 2020, coupled with his impressive athletic profile, the first round could be calling his name during the 2021 draft.
About This Series
Packer Central is introducing you to the top prospects, both on and off the field, in this year’s NFL Draft.
CB6: Georgia's Eric Stokes