There’s no question that Green Bay Packers 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes has had a successful rookie season. The former Georgia star received Rookie of the Year honors after being pushed into the starting lineup early in the season following injuries to Kevin King and Jael Alexander. He came through and played well. But Stokes hopes to take his game to another level in his second year.
Stokes was great in training camp last year. His speed of learning and determination made him stand out immediately.
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams both “challenged” him in training camp, passing the ball in his direction regularly. Stokes took it in stride, realizing that Rodgers and Adams, the two best players at their positions, were both trying to make him better.
Stokes didn’t expect to see a lot of action on the defensive end right away when the season started. In the season opener against the Saints, he made just eight defensive plays on the floor.
But when King was injured in Week 2 and then Jaire Alexander lost the season in Week 4, Stokes was pushed into the starting lineup. He replaced Kim midway through Game 2 of the season and played every game starting in Week 3.
Stokes had a strong rookie season. According to pro-football-reference.com, opposing quarterbacks completed just 49.5 percent of their passes when throwing to Stokes-covered receivers, with a quarterback rating of just 71.3. He also broke 14 passes. Those are impressive numbers for any cornerback, let alone a rookie.
Stokes impressed his head coach in his first season with the team. “He’s a guy who wired the right way,” Matt LaFleur told reporters last season. “He comes to work with the right attitude and the right mindset and I think he’s going to continue to get better and better as we progress on this. I just love what he’s all about as a person. I think he has a A very good set of skills to complement that and we are lucky to have that guy on our football team.”
One thing Stokes needs to improve is his ability to play in the air. His excellent speed allows him to recover from temporary beatings and steals. But despite his impressive numbers in coverage, he has only intercepted one pass on 97 goals all season. He threw up five potential interceptions last season.
Just like last year, Stokes has no hesitation in acknowledging the areas he needs to work on, telling reporters on OTA that he intends to improve his ability to complete interceptions.
“I’m trying to improve that aspect of my game,” Stokes explained. “[I’m] Just started looking for more balls. I have to get used to this. I’m not making any excuses or anything, just face, face as I know it growing up.just play [the receiver’s] hand. Like, hey dude, it’s all just playing cards.so now [I’m] Just retraining myself to find the ball. I know you’re in place, looking for the ball. Do all these little things and get out of your head. “
Stokes has some seasoned players on the roster who could learn the skill. Rasul Douglas doesn’t have the speed of Stokes or Jaire Alexander, but Stokes knows how to handle the ball and intercept. Although he only played in 12 games, he had five games last year, including two touchdowns.
If Stokes can improve his ability to handle and intercept the ball in the air, he has the potential to become an elite cornerback.
Even better, the Packers may have the strongest starting cornerback trio in the league, former Pro bowlers Jaire Alexander, Stokes and Douglas. When you add starting safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage to the mix, the Packers’ secondary players have the potential to be elite.
Stokes knew the potential was there. “I think we can be a really good middle school,” he said. “I know how we all work, I know how we all compete day in and day out and how we want the best for everyone. We can be the best DB (group) in the whole league ) one. We just need to get out there.”