Packers CB Eric Stokes Hopes to Build On a Solid Rookie Season

There is no doubt Green Bay Packers 2021 first round pick Eric Stokes had a successful rookie season. The former Georgia star earned All-Rookie Team honors after being thrust into a starting role early in the season after injuries to Kevin King and Jaire Alexander. He came through and played well. But Stokes is hoping to take his game to another level in year two.

Stokes was noticeable in training camp last year. His speed and determination to learn made him stand out right away.

Both Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams were “picking on him” in camp, throwing passes in his direction on a regular basis. Stokes took it in stride, realizing that Rodgers and Adams, two of the best in the game at their respective positions, were trying to make him better.

When the season started, Stokes was not expected to see a lot of action right away on defense. In the season opener against the Saints, he was on the field for only eight defensive snaps.

But when King was injured in Week 2 and then Jaire Alexander was lost for the season in Week 4, Stokes was thrust into the starting lineup. He replaced King midway through the second game of the season and started every game starting in Week 3.

Stokes had a strong rookie year. According to pro-football-reference.com, opposing quarterbacks completed just 49.5 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes and had a quarterback rating of just 71.3. He also broke up 14 passes. Those are impressive numbers for any cornerback, let alone a rookie.

Stokes made a big impression on his head coach in his first season with the team. “He is a guy that is just wired the right way,” Matt LaFleur told reporters last season. “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.”

One thing Stokes needs to improve upon is his ability to play the ball in the air. His elite speed allows him to recover when he’s momentarily beaten and break up passes. But despite the outstanding numbers he had in coverage, he intercepted only one pass all season in 97 targets. He dropped five potential interceptions last season.

Just like last year, Stokes has not hesitated to acknowledge the areas he needs to work on and he told reporters at OTAs that he intends to improve his ability to finish interceptions.

“I’m trying to grow that aspect of my game,” Stokes explained. “[I’m] just starting to look for the ball more. I’ve got to get comfortable with that. I’m not making no excuses or anything, but just growing up all I knew face guard, face guard. Just play [the receiver’s] hands. Like, hey bro, throughout everything just play hands. So now [I’m] just retraining myself to just look for the ball. I know you’re in position, look for the ball. Do all this little stuff and get out of your head.”

Stokes has some experienced players on the roster to learn that skill from. Rasul Douglas doesn’t have the speed of Stokes or Jaire Alexander, but Stokes knows how to play the ball and make interceptions. He had five last year despite playing only 12 games and he returned two of them for touchdowns.

If Stokes can improve his ability to play the ball in the air and make interceptions, he has the potential to become an elite cornerback.

Better yet, the Packers potentially have the strongest starting cornerback trio in the league in former Pro Bowler Jaire Alexander, Stokes and Douglas. When you add starting safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage to the mix and the Packers secondary has the potential to be elite.

Stokes knows the potential is there. “I feel like we can be a really good secondary,” he said. “I know how all of us work, I know how all of us compete day in and day out, and how we want the best for all of us. We can be one of the best DB (groups) in this whole league. We’ve just got to go out there and do it.”

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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8 points

Comments (14)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
PhantomII's picture

June 04, 2022 at 12:45 pm

Another player who has exceeded his coaches timeline to produce at a high level. I would like for him and JA both to pick off a lot more passes. It would be better for pick sixes....to the HOUSE.. With our pass rush on the DL and OLB positions we should see an increase of deflected and off target balls ready to be picked. Good pick Gute. Thanks for putting in the good work Stokes. GPG

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splitpea1's picture

June 04, 2022 at 01:51 pm

It sounds like he understands he'll have to transition from an ingrained face guarding technique to getting his head turned around quicker and locating the ball. He probably knows he'll need to focus less on the quarterback's eyes and more on the movements of the receivers in order to achieve that elite status.

In fairness to Stokes, he was asked to defend some of the best receivers in the game, and as a rookie, he did a superb job for the most part....Not taking away anything from Douglas at all, but in a couple of his INTs (e.g., vs. Cardinals and Browns), the ball was thrown pretty much right to him due to receiver slippage or errant pattern--but of course he deserves credit for being in the right place and hanging on....Speaking of 5 INTs, that's all Alexander has for his career despite the coverage excellence. You'd like to see him haul in a few more as well.

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LLCHESTY's picture

June 04, 2022 at 06:41 pm

If Jaire stays healthy Stokes should get a lot of opportunities to make some plays on the ball. Rather have a guy like him getting 3-4 interceptions than a guy like Diggs getting 10 but giving up 1000 yards.

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jannes bjornson's picture

June 05, 2022 at 02:40 pm

He and Surtain,Jr.on the All-Rookie team. Two solid competitors. Stokes just needs to relax his hands and lock on and he will have the INTs going forward. Too bad the Pack didn't have extra picks to move up and take his running mate Tyson Campbell to fill the nickel, but no complaints.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 04, 2022 at 07:21 pm

He had a real good rookie season. I know that sophomore slumps happen, but I also know that many players improve in their second year, so I’m thinking he’ll be a strong piece of a strong defense.

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jannes bjornson's picture

June 05, 2022 at 02:41 pm

This guy's trajectory is upward bound.

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relleum61's picture

June 04, 2022 at 07:44 pm

Leatherhead, I concur...Stokes had a good rookie season. I would like to see him have a "Shields" level season this year. I hope to read in the camp reports that ES and JA are getting their regular work, then getting extra work with the receivers as they do "ball drills" to improve those catch skills. Imagine the possibilities of both ES and JA each came down with 5 picks this year!

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vagem55's picture

June 05, 2022 at 07:40 am

Gil, please change the name in the phrase "but Stokes knows how to play the ball and make interceptions" to either "he" or "Douglas".

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HarryHodag's picture

June 05, 2022 at 07:52 am

What's clear is that the University of Georgia is producing some NFL-ready athletes. Lets hope Walker and Wyatt follow the same path.

There's a couple of things I've observed from Gute's drafts: he picks players who are likely to impact NEXT season(Stokes excepted), and he likes to draft from major conferences, with exceptions.

Does anyone remember Kevin King?

2 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

June 05, 2022 at 02:43 pm

Kirby Smart runs the best program in college ball.

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PatrickGB's picture

June 05, 2022 at 02:53 pm

Of course I would love interceptions. Yet I saw many passes get knocked out at the very last millisecond. If the intent was to simply intercept the ball then that opportunity may get lost. Sure, if it’s there to catch, then fine, catch it. But don’t chase after interceptions at the cost of good coverage. Just keep what your doing Mr. Stokes and the interceptions will come!

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Cheezdickle's picture

June 05, 2022 at 05:01 pm

Stokes way exceeded rookie expectations. At least they didn't have to put King on the game. That's a liability.

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ImaPayne's picture

June 05, 2022 at 07:03 pm

I need to see Stokes making his opponents vie for the ball.
Didn't like him backing off the list and giving a lot of room to the receivers. I read he was getting beat bad in camp trying to cover Adams last year. he was a one pick. Fool me once sha my e on you..
my sense says he isn't a wonderlic conqueror.

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K-Town262's picture

June 06, 2022 at 03:37 am

Given the fact that Jaire missed 14 games and how well the defense played, it should please Packer fans that assuming a healthy Jaire, the defense should be the same, if not, improve this season.

Also, with the absence of Z. Smith for 16 games last year and losing him through free agency, the Packers fared pretty well without him. That was due to the fact in great play from Gary, Campbell, and Douglas.

My concern and interest are in the safeties:

With the return of Jaire, and with the 2 Georgia Bull Dogs (Walker and Wyatt) from the draft, all the safeties have to do is make everybody else's job a little easier, right?

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