A Georgia native, Eric Stokes got the opportunity to stay home and play for the Bulldogs in the SEC. As a track star in high school, he made an easy transition to cornerback and used his redshirt year to learn head coach Kirby Smart’s playbook on defense. After that, Stokes simply got better each season.
Name: Eric Stokes
Weight: 185 lbs
2020 Stats: 9 games, 20 tackles, 4 interceptions, 4 passes defensed
Playing in a rotational role in 2018, Stokes finished with 20 tackles, one of them for a loss, and recorded nine pass breakups. He became a starter the next year and earned second team All-SEC honors after putting up 38 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and nine more pass breakups.
Going into this season, Stokes took a huge step forward in ball production with four picks, on top of the other stats listed above. Also worth noting is that Stokes returned two of those four picks for touchdowns, showcasing his breakaway speed. He earned first team All-SEC honors before entering the draft.
Man Coverage: Stokes possesses really good press man traits, and appears more comfortable when tasked with jamming receivers at the line. He isn’t the biggest cornerback but he uses every inch of his frame to get good extension and redirect receivers off the line of scrimmage. Off-man coverage exposes his athletic deficiencies, and Stokes can get beat by speedy receivers when he’s not able to play them tight. In man coverage, Stokes goes much more by feel than vision, which is why he does better in press man situations.
Zone Coverage: Stokes has an innate understanding of where the boundary is relative to him, and he uses this very well in zone coverage to create space and leverage between his zone and receivers. Much of his ball production also came in zone, where he was able to read and react quicker than he does in zone.
Playmaking Ability: This was easily Stokes’ biggest weakness entering 2020, but he took a huge step forward in that regard. Stokes’ first two seasons featured lots of ball production in the way of pass breakups, but he struggled to turn that into takeaways. How much a team values takeaways over pass breakups will color their opinion of Stokes, but the improvement he showed in snagging picks in 2020 was very promising.
Athleticism: Here lies an issue for Stokes, as he isn’t overly athletic. His hips are often tight and this plays a big part in his struggles with off-man coverage. Stokes has good long speed but it takes time for him to reach that top gear. As such, Stokes’ best fit in the NFL is a zone-heavy scheme that features a lot of aggressive press looks, which happens to be an accurate description of the scheme Dan Quinn prefers.
Run Support: Here’s where Stokes stands out the most. He’s a rare cornerback that not only does well in run support, but seems to relish the opportunity. He’s not a big hitter, per se, but Stokes is a sound tackler. When the ballcarrier reaches the point for Stokes to peel off and come down in run support, he does so with zero hesitation and doesn’t make business decisions. Between this and his athletic profile, Stokes reminds me of Jaylon Johnson in last year’s draft.
Processing: Stokes plays the game with a very good head about him, especially in zone coverage. He knows where to position himself and how to pass off receivers between zones. You’d like to see him trust his eyes a bit more in man coverage, although he did improve in that area his final year, but Stokes doesn’t have a problem in his knowledge of the game.
Toughness: He’s a dog. Stokes is aggressive in coverage and plays through the catch point regularly. His willingness in run support showcases that Stokes is just looking to make a play each down however he can, which is why he worked his way into the defensive rotation so early on in his time at Georgia.
Intangibles: Georgia changes up their team captains on a weekly basis, which meant Stokes only earned the honor once last year. However, he was a vocal leader in the secondary in a scheme that asks a lot out of its defensive backs. His ability to integrate into Smart’s scheme so quickly and improve each year speaks to his coachability and work ethic as well. He may not be an elite athlete, but Stokes has shown he’ll do whatever it takes to overcome that.