GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a tradition that stretches more than a decade, here is our annual ranking of the 90 players on the Green Bay Packers’ roster ahead of July 28, the first practice of training camp. This isn’t merely a look at the best players. Rather, it’s a formula that combines talent, salary, importance of the position, depth at the position and, for young players, draft positioning. More than the ranking, we hope you learn a little something about every player on the roster.
No. 27: CB Eric Stokes (6-0, 194; 22; rookie; Georgia)
On May 14, 2016, Stokes won Georgia state championships in the 100 and 200 meters as a junior at Eastside High School. The University of Georgia’s defensive coordinator at the time, Mel Tucker, was there.
“I’m at the Georgia state track and field meet and saw this kid win the 100 meters and I said, “Holy, smokes, who the heck is this guy?’” Tucker, now the head coach at Michigan State, said after the Packers used their first-round pick on Stokes. “He was a real thin kid but he was long and obviously super-fast. I sent a couple texts and found out he was a football player named Eric Stokes and was actually in my recruiting area.
“So, when I got back to the office, I looked in the database and he was in there as a running back. Obviously, he wasn’t highly rated as a running back at 160 pounds but I pulled up his tape. His highlight tape, every play on there was him playing running back. The very last play of the highlight film, as I remember, was a clip of him playing defense. It was one play. So, I did some research. Even though he was a really skinny kid, he was tough. He was a tough runner. So, I did some more investigating and talked to the coaches and told them, ‘His future is going to be as a defensive back.’”
Tucker nailed it. Stokes played in 31 games in three seasons. He had zero interceptions and nine passes defensed during each of his first two seasons. In nine games as a junior in 2020, he had four interceptions – including two returned for touchdowns – and four additional breakups for eight passes defensed. According to Pro Football Focus, Stokes allowed 12-of-29 passing, just a 41.4 percent completion rate.
Stokes had a pick-six during the final day of the June minicamp. The big play was equal parts talent and knowledge gleaned from his short time with defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.
“Getting to what Coach Gray said, the down-and-distance was telling me what I needed to do and what I needed to know, and just trust it,” Stokes said. “From the start, I wasn’t trusting some of the things that I was seeing to where now, he’s just telling me, ‘Trust it, trust it, trust it.’ Pretty much the moment I see it, go ahead and trust it and attack it, and that’s what I pretty much did. I trusted it and I attacked it and I ended up with a pick-six.”
Gray likes the gift that was delivered in the first round in April. Stokes has the size and speed to be an elite player. More than that, Gray likes the attitude of a player who wasn’t a five-star recruit and didn’t have playing time given to him on a silver spoon.
“He was just grinding and grinding,” Gray said.
Playing time won’t be handed to Stokes in Green Bay, either, not with All-Pro Jaire Alexander on one side and veteran Kevin King back after an injury-plagued, disappointing 2020 season. Of course, grinding is easier with 4.29 speed in the 40. Now, it’s up to Gray to give Stokes the tools to maximize his athletic gifts.
“You have to teach them how to regulate it and not get top speed every time, and then that way they can actually play better on the intermediate and underneath routes,” Gray said. “Every play is not going to be a go, so learn that you can outrun guys in this league so take a little bit more chances than you normally would.”
That was Tucker’s message to Stokes, as well, during their time together in 2017 and 2018.
“Talent is not enough,” Tucker said. “You’re looking at a kid that took talent and speed and a skill-set and he put a lot of work into it. If I’m a corner and I have speed, the receivers I’m playing against also have speed and the quarterbacks are accurate with the ball. At that point, it’s going to come down to who’s got the best technique? Who’s got the best mental and physical toughness? Speed is not enough. Everybody’s got speed. Alabama, they have speed. Florida’s got speed. Everybody’s got speed. You go to the NFL, the receivers he’s going to play against, they’ve got speed. So, you better have some technique, you better have some film study, you better have some toughness to you, you better learn from your mistakes. He never gave off any indication to me that, ‘Because I’m a 100-meter champion, I’m going to the NFL.’ That was never his approach.”
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