Packers CB Eric Stokes Continues to Learn and Develop

When the Green Bay Packers drafted cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, they expected the former Georgia star to challenge for a starting position by the second half of his rookie year. The original plan was that Stokes would likely be in the nickel or dime packages early and as he learned the defense, adjusted to the NFL game and improved his technique, he would eventually take over for Kevin King as the second cornerback opposite Pro Bowler Jaire Alexander.

Fast forward to the six week mark of Stokes’ rookie season and those plans changed. Injuries to King and Alexander forced the Packers to thrust Stokes into the lineup and give him significant playing time sooner than they originally wished. But despite some expected rookie mistakes, Stokes has been equal to the task.

Through six games, Stokes has been on the field for 82 percent of the Packers defensive snaps while starting four games. He’s been credited with 21 total tackles, has broken up seven passes and recorded his first career NFL interception which came against Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers.

With two experienced corners usually lining up opposite Stokes, opposing quarterbacks have not hesitated to test the rookie. He has been targeted 36 times through six games which is tied for nineth in the entire league according to Pro Football Focus.

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, opposing quarterbacks have completed just 55.6 percent of the passes they’ve thrown to receivers covered by Stokes and their quarterback rating is only 70.7.

The development of Stokes has been something the coaching staff has watched since he arrived in Green Bay after being selected in the draft in April. The scouting report on Stokes indicated he had elite speed but needed to work on his technique and his ball skills to live up to his first round billing.

Throughout training camp, Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, two of the best players in the league at their respective positions, decided to test Stokes on a regular basis. Stokes could have felt picked on, but instead, he viewed it as an opportunity to improve by going up against two elite athletes in practice each day.

“Every day, I know for a fact that he’s going to make me better somehow, some way,” Stokes said.

Adams was impressed by the way Stokes responded. “I like what I see from him,” Adams said during training camp. “He’s the closest thing to Jaire [Alexander] as far as mentality and ability, from what I’ve seen so far. The kid is fast as hell. He can get beat and recover kind of like how Sam Shields would do.”

In the season opener, Stokes saw only eight defensive snaps as both King and Alexander were healthy. In Week 2, that number went up to 44 snaps. Since injuries have hit the secondary, Stokes has been thrust into a full-time starting role a bit sooner than most people had expected. He has done a solid job overall.

Head coach Matt LaFleur has been impressed by Stokes’ progress. “He is a guy that is just wired the right way,” LaFleur said after the win over Pittsburgh. “He comes to work with the right attitude, with the right mentality, and I think he’ll continue to get better and better and better the more we progress through this thing. I just love what he’s all about as a person. I think he’s got a really great skill set to complement that and we’re fortunate to have that guy on our football team. Certainly, we were getting thin there in the secondary toward the end of the game. It was cool to see some of those young guys get out there and make some plays.”

Stokes’ speed allows him to make up for some of the mistakes he makes. If a receiver gets a step on him, he can often catch up, especially when the ball is in the air. He also doesn’t have to give receivers as much of a cushion because of his speed, but if he does, he can bait quarterbacks into trying to throw to an “open” receiver who can be quickly covered by Stokes.

At times, Stokes still does get beat by double moves or has the occasional lapse in his assignments, but he continues to learn and improve.

The Packers are confident about their future at cornerback. Long term, they hope that Stokes and Alexander give them an elite pair of staters at this vital position. As Stokes continues to learn and develop, he gives the organization faith that this high draft pick was one that was well spent.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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10 points

Comments (21)

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splitpea1's picture

October 23, 2021 at 12:22 pm

Given our injury situation, Stokes is absolutely one of the most valuable players on our team. He has risen to the occasion. It's also good that the coaching staff has smartly minimized his ST snaps in the last few games.

10 points
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Leatherhead's picture

October 23, 2021 at 02:05 pm

Pass defense starts with guys who can cover and tackle, and it’s a long season and guys get hurt, so you’d better start the season with a bunch of decent guys and hope you have enough. These DBs are involved in some big plays and the rules are stacked against them, so I think that you have to spend premium resources to get them.

Stokes wasn’t predicted by most of us here, but he’s been able to stay healthy and he’s played pretty well. Added to our other DBs, it’s a pretty good group. Maybe we could get a blue chip to replace King next year……a truly outstanding secondary..

6 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

October 23, 2021 at 04:55 pm

Leatherhead,
I understand your point but sure would prefer a blue chip DL, or an OLB, or ILB first. These guys will make the back-end players better as you know.

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geronamaker's picture

October 23, 2021 at 02:08 pm

The safety play has also been very solid thus far. Hopefully Savage will pass the protocol today and god willing suit up tomorrow with his game face on.

8 points
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jont's picture

October 23, 2021 at 02:21 pm

"The QB passer rating against Stokes is only 70.7".

This is pretty impressive for a rookie thrown into the fire earlier than planned.
Granted it's early and a small sample, but in this fan's opinion he's looking really, really good. Good pick, good coaching, and a player rising to the challenge.

(Points of reference: QB's against Jaire last year got 54.3 and King got 115.0.)

10 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

October 24, 2021 at 10:59 am

I had him over King to start from day one. Too bad the Pack didn't have a chance to draft his running mate at CB for those Georgai Bulldogs. The D-Line Fans can hope the Pack will move on Jordan Davis from that same defense.

0 points
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PatrickGB's picture

October 23, 2021 at 02:44 pm

The organization has ,historically, whiffed a few times at first and second round CB’s. It’s really nice to nail it with Alexander and Stokes.

8 points
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packer132's picture

October 24, 2021 at 10:02 am

Savage was a first round in 2018 and looks to be a good pick. He primarily is a safety, though some people group cornerbacks with safeties.Casey Hayward was a 2nd round pick in 2012 and played 4 years with Green Bay.

2 points
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croatpackfan's picture

October 23, 2021 at 03:03 pm

Nice analyse Gil!

My hopes for Stokes are also high. I pray God he will stay healthy!

2 points
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ricky's picture

October 23, 2021 at 03:27 pm

So far, Stokes has faced significant time against only one very good QB, Joe Burrow. Week 2, he faced Goff. Week three, Garappolo. Week four, Roethlisberger (who missed several wide open WR's on longer passes). Week five, Burrow. Week six, Justin Fields. Not exactly a "murderer's row". So, yes, he's done well against inferior QB's. How will he fare against stronger competition. Because there has to be a solution to King, who is incapable of covering anyone who gets behind him. Just a grain of salt to take with the love fest for Stokes.

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MITM's picture

October 24, 2021 at 06:10 am

While that is true, bad corners are usually gonna look like bad corners even against subpar QBs. See Isaac Yiadom, who is a BAD corner. At least we know we have plenty of visible talent to work with in Stokes.

2 points
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wildbill's picture

October 23, 2021 at 04:08 pm

Glad the comparison to Sam Shields was mentioned as I have been getting a Shields vibe about Stokes and wouldn’t this defense have a chance to be elite if that happened and Alexander was back healthy?

4 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

October 23, 2021 at 04:53 pm

Wildbill,
Stokes is both talller, heavier, and faster than Sam Shields ever was. Shields was like 5'11" and 184 lbs (the 5'11" is a generous height), and Stokes is 6' and 194 lbs. Sam ran the 40 yard dash in the 4.3's, while Stokes ran the 40-yard around 4.25 up to 4.3.

Stokes will be a better and a more durable player than Shields.

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wildbill's picture

October 23, 2021 at 08:08 pm

Lol, I said I got a “Sam Shields vibe”, not that they could wear each other’s clothes. Plus Shield’s best unofficial 40 time is 4.28, guess that’s waaaay slower than Stokes. I guess having played less than 6 full games you can tell Stokes is not going to be injury prone. I will be anxiously waiting for you to post the next winning powerball numbers oh great Nostradamus

2 points
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

October 24, 2021 at 10:41 am

WB, not sure why you felt the need to be defensive? My comment was not meant as an attack on you! It was me pointing out a size and speed difference. Stokes is bigger and faster. In the NFL where everything is measured those slight differences mean A LOT!

Plus, while Shields was a very good player for the Packers and a great value selection (undrafted FA) Stokes was a first round pick who in 6 games has shown tremendous maturity and development. Stokes while having a ways to go has star talent written all over him. Shields as I recall was trying to convert from a WR to a DB and it took him several seasons to develop before becoming the player he eventually was. The only 2 things these players have in common is speed. Nothing more! I understand the comparison 'vibe' but very different situations IMO with one being an undrafted FA who was converting to a DB after 3 years of being a WR for Miami Hurricanes while Stokes is a 1st rounder who played DB all 4 years in college.

The injury reference was how Shields unfortunately was susceptible to the severity of so many concussions. While concussions are an unfortunate part of football most players do not have their careers ended prematurely because of them. Therefore, yes I believe I can reasonably deduce Stokes will not be as injury prone as Shields.

As the great Aaron Rodgers says....CHILL!

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 24, 2021 at 11:02 am

Stokes is a complete CB, he will tackle and has longer arms for his reach-in to play the ball. He kept the 'Bama WRS in check.

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Packer_Fan's picture

October 23, 2021 at 06:36 pm

I always thought that Stoke would take over sometime during the season. It happened quickly because of injuries. But that is good for it gives him the ability to learn and get better. And it appears he has the right attitude. And he doesn't get beat deep. No more of those King allowing long throws.

4 points
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MarkinMadison's picture

October 23, 2021 at 07:00 pm

Given King's injury history, I doubt if anyone is really surprised that Stokes has been thrust into the starting role.

Stokes' talent has been clear from the get-go. Yeah, he is going make mistakes. Expected. The point is that King is still making big mistakes in his fifth NFL season.

I'm not sure I understand the comment about getting a blue chip player to replace King. What is Stokes? The Packers have spent 9 first or second round picks on D-backs in the last 8 years. It is rarity for them to have a year where they can invest in other position groups. It . Is. Time.

6 points
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Guam's picture

October 24, 2021 at 08:23 am

Playing nickel as much as most teams do requires three good CBs and the Packers had three at the start of the year - Alexander, King and Stokes. I share LH's belief that King will be gone next year and I do not see his replacement on the current roster (except maybe Douglas??). Hence the need for another blue chip CB.

The days of only needing two good CBs are long gone.

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Starrbrite's picture

October 23, 2021 at 07:24 pm

I’m highly impressed with the Stokes. He appears to contest most pass attempts and when he’s out of position, his speeds allows him to recover.
I also agree with those who lean towards improving the D-Iine. Besides QB, I believe it is the most difficult of all positions to find a true blue-chipper.

4 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

October 24, 2021 at 05:24 pm

During the game today against Washington, the last pass breakup by Stokes was a thing of beauty.
I think by the end of this season and when we are in the playoffs games, we will be so happy Gute spent that first round draft choice on him. If Alexander can come back, we will have two solid (almost shutdown corners) to help us get to the Super Bowl.

1 points
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