GREEN BAY, Wis. – Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s just as true in scouting as it is in art.
Take, for instance, the Green Bay Packers’ first-round draft pick, cornerback Eric Stokes. Four scouts viewed the same film and were dealing with the same realities. Stokes is big (6-foot 5/8), long (32 3/4-inch arms) and incredibly fast (his 4.29 in the 40 made him the second-fastest player in the entire draft). In 2020, he was productive (four interceptions) and stingy (38 percent completion rate, according to Sports Info Solutions).
Nonetheless, the scouts interviewed for a series of stories on Green Bay’s draft picks had wildly different opinions on the player selected No. 29 overall.
“The first-rounder was a pretty big surprise,” one personnel director said. “The kid, physically, he’s got some gifts. He can fly, he’s big – all that stuff. But the football player didn’t really add up. He flashed enough to say you should take a shot. I could see taking a shot in 2. At some point, you just don’t find those types of talents. I hate to crap on the first pick but we would see him get mocked in the first round and we were like, ‘Man, that would be so weird.’ Him and (offensive lineman Alex) Leatherwood (who went No. 17 to the Raiders) were the two that definitely felt like pretty strong reaches based on their film.”
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Stokes played a lot of football in an elite conference but is still somewhat new to the position. He didn’t start playing cornerback until his senior year in high school. So, Stokes is an ascending talent. However, given the injury history of veteran Kevin King, Stokes might be forced into a role early.
“If they play him right away, it’s going to be tough for him. I would be surprised if he played well early,” a scout said.
Stokes didn’t have any interceptions during his first two seasons but had four in 2020. None of those picks showed any elite talent, though. An Arkansas receiver stopped running on a slant. Tennessee’s quarterback floated one off his back foot. Missouri’s quarterback overthrew his intended target. On the best of the four, a Florida receiver didn’t come back to the football and Stokes came off his man to make the play.
“The things that are key to that position, like ball skills, tracking, instincts, he didn’t really have any of those,” the personnel director said. “He’s probably better in man but, even still, some of his finishing is tough. You never say never, but I would be surprised if he turns into a No. 1 just because he’s going to get eaten up by those top-level route-runners. It’s a Rashan Gary thing. If you can get him to reach his ceiling, yeah, he’s got all the talent in the world. But, like Rashan, it was so inconsistent. I don’t know how you can trust it to be more consistent on the next level where it’s tougher.”
One team’s area scout, on the other hand, thought the upside was worth betting on at that spot in the draft.
“Super-talented. The ball skills were always the biggest question for us but he is high-talent, high-upside. He very well could develop into a No. 1 corner but it may take a year or two before he gets there,” he said.
Stokes was guilty of six pass-interference penalties during his final two seasons, with four in 2019 and two in 2020. Stokes’ tape is littered with little reaches and tugs, which should be unnecessary for a man with his traits. “DB panic mode,” as former NFL and college coach Jim Mora called it in the accompanying video, is hard to eliminate.
“The penalty part, we attributed that to the lack of confidence in his ball skills,” the scout said. “He’s in-phase and in good position and he’s worried about making a play on the ball. Some of the other stuff, the slipping and stuff, that’s cleaning up technique. They played a ton of true match at Georgia. They put a lot on those guys’ plate. You mix in some zones and some changeup stuff, I’m sure that will get better.”
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy was an interested observer in 2020 and liked what he saw from the redshirt junior.
“Obviously, he has rare tools, and that’s not throwing that word around lightly,” he said. “You don’t find too many guys with that length and that speed. Running 4.2s, that alone is rare, let alone for a long-levered guy like that. He made a nice jump from his sophomore tape. We watched him over the summer because we thought he might have a chance to graduate and play in the Senior Bowl. He did a much better job finishing on the football this year. Big, powerful athlete. He’ll tackle. The biggest thing for me is he was making more plays, he was finishing. He was in position to make plays and he made them this year. Really high-upside player, fits their scheme. I thought he was a good pick. I know that he was a guy that they were really targeting. He was one of the guys they were really locked in.”