GREEN BAY, Wis. – Two numbers jump off the sheet when it comes to Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes, the Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick on Thursday night.
First, it was Stokes’ red-hot 40-yard dash at the Bulldogs’ pro day on March 17.
“The 4.29, you know, kind of gets your attention,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said following a drama-filled day at 1265 Lombardi Ave.
Before that, it was Stokes’ play in the powerful SEC that caught the attention of Pat Moore, the team’s area scout. It wasn’t just Stokes’ four interceptions. Rather, it was the play-to-play performance. According to Sports Info Solutions, Stokes ranked second in the draft class with 12.1 receiving yards allowed per game. Man or zone, Stokes’ coverage was on point.
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“He played a lot at Georgia from an early time there and steadily grew as a player,” Gutekunst said. “The things that really stuck out about him, his explosiveness is off the charts. He's a strong, strong athlete, and I think they do a great job down there at Georgia training those guys. As he continued to play in the SEC, I think you saw his confidence continue to grow and grow and grow. That led him to have the year that he had this year.”
Stokes’ path to becoming one of the top cornerbacks in draft took flight about five years ago. In Spring 2016, Melvin Tucker, the head coach at Michigan State now but the defensive coordinator at Georgia at the time, 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.
Stokes was a running at Eastside High School in Covington, Ga. He was ranked the 66th-best prospect in Georgia by 247Sports. At 160 pounds, Stokes would get killed at running back. At cornerback, though, is where Tucker saw potential.
Eric Stokes' Breakout Game
After learning cornerback during his redshirt season of 2017, a big game at Missouri midway through the 2018 season got him on his way. Stokes broke up three passes against touted Tigers quarterback Drew Lock and blocked a kick in a 43-29 romp.
“Later on, throughout that season, when we got Auburn at home and I got thrown in the game and it just showed me against another top team to where, ‘OK then, I know for sure I’m really good in the SEC because I’m going against top-level teams’ and all that stuff. It gave me the confidence right then and there.”
For as well as he played and the physical tools he possesses at 6-foot 5/8, Stokes isn’t a finished product. “That’s just not someone I would take in the first round,” a scout said before the draft. Over the last two years, only Northwestern’s Greg Newsome had more pass-interference penalties (seven) than Stokes (six), according to Sports Info Solutions.
Eric Stokes Joins Jaire Alexander
But the Packers don’t have to rush him into the lineup. Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan are back on one-year deals and can hold down the fort until Stokes is ready to join Jaire Alexander.
Stokes is impressed with what he’s seen from Alexander.
“I know for a fact he’s greedy. He’s hungry to where like he’s going to go out there and fight for every little scrap and he isn’t going to give up anything,” Stokes said. “That’s pretty much how I look at myself to where I’m going to go out there and give everything that I got. Because I know for a fact that he’s going to do the same. So, it’s just learning from him doing everything that I can. Being on the details and all that stuff, keep learning and just keep growing as a player. It’s just only going to be better.”
Stokes watched the draft with friends and family in Covington. Shortly after 11:30 p.m. local time, he received the phone call of a lifetime.
“When Green Bay called me, it was just a big smile and I’m telling everybody to be quiet because they’re all screaming and already excited,” Stokes said. “I’m just trying to tell them to be quiet and keep calm and all that stuff. It was a surreal moment.”