Rookie Year a Positive Learning Experience for Eric Stokes

The Green Bay Packers selected cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Stokes had a strong rookie season in Green Bay and appears to be ready to take the next step in his development as an NFL player.

When the Packers drafted Stokes, they were excited because of his speed and the potential he showed while playing at Georgia. The hope was that before the end of his rookie campaign, he would become a starter at cornerback for the Packers.

In training camp, Stokes went up against two of the best players in the league in quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams. The two All-Pro players decided to test Stokes on a regular basis in camp, trying to see what the talented young rookie could do.

While Stokes took his lumps in training camp, his attitude remained positive. “Every day, I know for a fact that he’s going to make me better somehow, some way,” Stokes said about facing Adams during training camp. “Just continue not to be scared to go up against him. Like, this is it. You’re the best wide receiver in the league. I’m trying to pick everything that I can from you and learn. You can’t be scared to mess up.”

Adams liked what he saw from Stokes during training camp and compared him to some very successful veterans he’s seen during his Packers career. “He's the closest thing to Jaire here as far as mentality and ability from what I've seen so far,” Adams said in August. “I mean, the kid is fast as hell. He can get beat and recover kind of like how Sam Shields would do.”

When the regular season started, Stokes was a backup behind Jaire Alexander and Kevin King. But when King was banged up and by Week 3, Stokes was thrust into starting duty. He was basically thrown into the pool and told to sink or swim. He proved he could swim very quickly.

By season’s end, Stokes was a reliable starter. He played in 16 games and started 14, playing 92 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He led the team with 14 passes defensed, made 55 tackles and earned his first career NFL interception against future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger.

According to pro-football-reference.com, opposing quarterbacks struggled when throwing to receivers covered by Stokes. They completed only 49.5 percent of their passes and had a quarterback rating of just 71.3.

He was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team for his strong performance. Stokes’ speed allowed him to catch up to receivers if they beat him early in a pattern.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was impressed with what he saw from Stokes this season. “He is a guy that is just wired the right way,” LaFleur told reporters after a Packers win. “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 views his rookie season as a learning experience. When asked how he improved over the course of his first season in the league, Stokes replied, “Just the knowledge, just knowing what the offense is going to hit us with and just being more prepared. You know that this going to happen, or this is going to happen. Just being more decisive, into everything I'm doing, and just being confident with it.”

Stokes is ahead of schedule. In a short time, he has already proven himself a reliable NFL cornerback with a lot of potential upside. His speed is elite and he improved at reading plays and pass patterns as the season progressed.

His biggest weakness was his inconsistency when trying to adjust to the ball in the air. At times, he was in the right place but was unable to come down with the ball or break up the pass. That is something that he hopes to improve as he gains experience.

“The biggest lesson is pretty much just live in the moment,” Stokes said. “Because you will have your highs, you will have your lows, and you've just got to continue to rock out with it and continue to grow and learn from it.”

Next season, the Packers are hoping to have Alexander healthy and back in the lineup with Stokes starting opposite him at cornerback. That would give the Pack a pair of young, speedy and talented starters at one of the most important positions on the field. If Stokes takes a step forward in year two and Alexander returns to form, the Packers will be set at cornerback for years to come.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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5 points

Comments (21)

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

February 12, 2022 at 12:40 pm

'Next season, the Packers are hoping to have Alexander healthy and back in the lineup with Stokes starting opposite him at cornerback'. And have rasul douglas in the defensive backfield as well.

nice article Gil.

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stockholder's picture

February 12, 2022 at 12:53 pm

Stokes did better than I thought he would. I really am surprised. The guy was considered grabby. And when you compare Douglass next to him. Well; I'm still thinking why did Gute draft him? After all; we did have Kevin King. (And everyone knows TJ Watt was the pick that year. )There were other holes that draft. And with so many past failures. Why stokes? Next man up? Speed? King? Whatever the reason. Stokes so far has worked out. The guy can run. He's talented. The return looks promising.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 12, 2022 at 04:14 pm

The reason was and is crystal clear--King needed to be replaced. He would not have been on my '21 squad after the NFC CH game failures.

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stockholder's picture

February 12, 2022 at 05:26 pm

But why sign King then? It's not crystal clear then. It's a back-up plan.=Next man up.

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2022 at 01:51 pm

The King signing was another GM fail and wasted 5M.

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PhantomII's picture

February 12, 2022 at 01:46 pm

It is gonna be good to have JA and Stokes together finally. I like Douglas as a FS...Something we don't have, he has the nose for the ball and 2 pick sixes. When was the last time there was 2 pick-sixes from any packer in a season?? Been probably since Woodson.

9 points
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BirdDogUni's picture

February 12, 2022 at 02:03 pm

Think we're better off with JA/Stokes/Douglas as our CBs... If JA/Stokes can learn to catch the ball when the opportunity arises, they'll be very dangerous!

If we can find one more difference maker at Safety, either through the draft or any other avenue, our secondary could be very special next season.

Re-sign Campbell and draft another Edge Rusher and DT and our defense could be special.

3 points
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PeteK's picture

February 12, 2022 at 05:07 pm

A DT that can play 70% as good as Clark along with the players you mentioned above would be enough to propel this D into top 5 category. Also, given plenty of rest with a running attack can can make ground chuck out of defenses.

2 points
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stockholder's picture

February 12, 2022 at 06:05 pm

They have all they need for a LOCK DOWN secondary. It's said you can never have enough Edge Rushers. Reggie White was 6-5 291 pounds. Aaron Donald 6-1 284 pounds. And while most like the Bosa or TJ Watt type. The packers have the Smiths and Gary. With Ke Ke Leaving. And Lowrey over achieving this year. It’s seems the best chance at 28. Is draft the guy that fits Donald or White in Size. Moving guys around is the key. But if that guy isn’t there. WR is the sure thing. Speed wins. And the packers just don't have enough on offense

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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2022 at 01:55 pm

One or the other. Assuming P Smith stays, the DT/DE spot needs the fix. I would move Lowry out unless he agrees to take a pay cut and play the five tech on passing downs.

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PhantomII's picture

February 13, 2022 at 10:30 am

If Savage was above mediocrity, I might agree. Maybe the light goes on 2022-23. Let's hope he's just a late bloomer. He actually flashed better under Pettine. Thank God I rarely say that name now. Good job getting everyone keyed up for playoffs DC Barry.

1 points
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Coldworld's picture

February 13, 2022 at 11:10 am

System change can be hard on safeties. Also, most safeties are late bloomers.

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PeteK's picture

February 13, 2022 at 12:09 pm

Yes, it took Butler and Sharper a few seasons before they became all pro.

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CheesyTex's picture

February 12, 2022 at 07:29 pm

Addendum to your final sentence: "if Stokes takes a step forward in year two and Alexander returns to form, the Packers will be set at cornerback for years to come" IF THEY ARE ABLE TO RE-SIGN ALEXANDER.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 13, 2022 at 03:27 am

That's a nasty thought. Since the Packers cannot auto-convert Alexander's $13.294M base salary because it is defined by the 5th year option, Alexander can likely force a trade or at least throw a monkey wrench into GB's plans.

But Alexander would have to be seriously motivated to cause such problems. His market is well defined by the recent Jalen Ramsey contract so what is reasonable is pretty clear. Alexander should get $30M fully guaranteed via a signing bonus versus $13M fully guaranteed. That's seventeen million reasons to sign, not to mention increased risk due to the possibility of serious injury if he plays on the option.

1 points
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flackcatcher's picture

February 15, 2022 at 01:39 pm

Nicely put TGR. Frankly, a lot of commentors here are deep in the well of unlimited money they think the Packers have. Gute wishes he had that money too. (sigh...)

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Rossonero's picture

February 13, 2022 at 06:33 am

The rookie year Stokes had is about as good as any fan could hope for. PFF had him ranked as a 4th round prospect, so that tells you that you can take their rankings with a grain of salt (and of course there's always the fact that AJ Dillon wasn't even on their draft board, so Nagler has roasted them for that too, and rightfully so).

But as we saw in 2021, injuries can and will happen.....so depth is a must. We gotta bring Douglas back. He's already said he doesn't want a lot of money. The reality is, either Stokes or Jaire could get injured in 2022, so we still gotta have depth.

There was a part of me that was a bit leery about Stokes. Is he just a guy who can run fast in a straight line? I've felt like the Underwear Olympics aka the NFL Combine had gotten too focused on 40 times. I'm glad I was wrong in that regard. We should also take into account that Stokes was facing future NFL competition coming out of an elite program at Georgia.

Outside of Jordan Love, we gotta give to Gutey -- he's picked Jaire, Gary and now Stokes and all three look to be great picks. Let's hope he's right about Love too, but that's a conversation for another day.

2 points
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blacke00's picture

February 13, 2022 at 07:33 am

Hold on! Let's not give Gutey too many props. It isn't always who you draft but who you don't draft. Gutey (and Thompson before him) have left considerable holes in the current line up. D-line is subpar, the IB positions have been neglected for years (Campbell had a very good year, but what did show before this year???) never drafted quality players when he had the chance, WR is a waste land, if all the FA would leave where would the Packers be?
Too many blind squirrels at 1265!

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Johnblood27's picture

February 13, 2022 at 07:38 am

No mention of Savage as another Gutey first round selection.

Savage disappointed greatly in his second year, let's hope he turns that trend around.

1 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

February 13, 2022 at 02:00 pm

It was his Third year as a starter. He made a couple Impact plays, but dropped a few INTs and whiffed on some tackles. He played more free under Pettine ,b ut was schooled by Brady on a ball that he needed to pick and change the momentum in the Home playoff loss.

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KeithJWard's picture

February 25, 2022 at 06:23 am

When the Green Bay Packers selected Eric Stokes in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, I've' said: "I have to write my thesis in an article in 2022 https://edubirdie.com/write-my-thesis that Stokes will have a well rookie season in Green Bay and will take the next step of his evolution as an NFL player." As I predicted, that happened.

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