Hello Packer Nation,
I know for some, there is drama flowing out of 1265 Lombardi hotter than a Hollywood night, but I will let that settle before commenting on the developing Rodgers saga. What is known is the 2021 NFL Draft started last night and fans were on pins and needles on what direction the organization was going to move forward with. Aaron Rodgers is our current QB, and now we have a new cornerback with high potential to add to an improving defense. It was a player I had the Packers taking in the 2nd round of my mock draft (see my blog https://www.absolutepacker.com/blog/jeremys-2021-mock-draft), and felt he fit the Packers perfectly. He is the prototypical Packer cornerback and a position the Packers hold in the highest regard, behind quarterback. While I may have had other players in higher regard @ 29, he should improve their young and ascending secondary.
With the 29th pick last night, the Packers chose Eric Stokes, a cornerback from University of Georgia. Physically, he stands 6'1" and weighs around 190lbs. He is athletically as gifted as they come. He has a track star background, running the 100m dash with Olympic speed @ 10.39 seconds in a state meet in high school. To provide a little perspective, the fastest man in world history, Olympic great Usain Bolt, ran the 100m @ 9.58 seconds years removed from high school, which still stands as a world record today. Stokes has the speed to play outside or in the slot (ran 4.25 in 40yd dash on his Pro Day). Stokes can fly folks!
Stokes fits the Packers cornerback and player mold perfectly. He was a first team All-SEC pick, a preseason Jim Thorpe watch list candidate (nations top DB), Bednarik Award candidate (top defensive player) and Wuerffel Trophy candidate (the player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement) last year. On the field, he showed ball hawking skills (returned 2 INT's for TD) during his junior season. He only allowed 38% completion rate against receivers he was covering, which was the best in college football. Jaire Alexander, for comparison sake, allowed just under 50% in his Pro Bowl 2020 season. Stokes has excellent recovery speed and if he gets beat off the line, he has the speed to recover and make a play on the ball. Georgia plays in the best football conference in the country, and he displayed tremendous ability against elite talent. To provide a little perspective, 12 out of the 32 first round picks played in the same conference (SEC) and 5 out of the first 10 picks were former SEC players. 4 out those top 10 picks were receivers from the SEC. When matched up against 1st round receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs, Stokes allowed a total of 7 catches on 12 targets for 2 TD’s. The longest completion was 23 yards - all this against elite WR’s drafted in the top 10, except for Ruggs who was drafted #12 last year. He gave up a total of 3 TD’s in three seasons. Stokes transition to the NFL should be smooth considering what he played against. He can cover any receiver he is tasked with covering, which limits his exposure against the likes of Tyreek Hill or Mike Evans. I would predict he is a starting nickel corner at worst, and possibly their #2 corner as a rookie.
He is super smooth in coverage and stays glued to receivers. He predominately played press man coverage, and I see him excelling if new DC Joe Barry prefers a predominant press man scheme. His speed should allow him to immediately contribute as a "gunner" on special teams. If they choose to put him there, he will immediately upgrade their coverage unit.
He flashed playmaking ability and a nose for the football as a junior, but was not consistent. He needs work trusting his skillset. He doesn't have elite football instincts and doubts what he sees instead of just reacting - this should improve with experience. His poise tends to falter when plays break down. He is rock solid in the first few seconds of the play, but if he needs to cover after initial play breaks down, he needs some work there. He will immediately be challenged defending the run and likely won't be much of an improvement over Kevin King, unfortunately. While he can play off receivers, it isn't a strength at this point because his ball awareness needs work. His football acumen is a work in progress.
Stokes is athletically more gifted than Jaire Alexander. The difference in the two players is Alexander has the alpha male personality - he has the confidence he is better than any receiver who lines up across from him. Stokes is more laid back and lacks confidence on the field. I think Alexander can be an excellent mentor and get the best out of Stokes natural gifts. One knock against him that seemed like a common theme was his aggressiveness will need to be managed at the NFL level. He won't get away with his handsy play in the NFL. Stokes only has three years of legitimate football experience. Every year, he improved and finally came into his own in his third year at Georgia. He is an ascending player and only should get better with experience.
Stokes has the makings of an Pro Bowl/All-Pro corner in the NFL. He will need to take his amazing athletic gifts and develop the football side of things to be that guy. He has a great secondary coach in Jerry Gray who is known to coach the hell out of his corners. When he can match his football acumen with his athletic gifts, the sky is the limit for Stokes.
Does Stokes immediately improve the Packers defense? Yes, but not unless they find improvement over Lowry and Lancaster. I firmly believe they need to improve their defensive line before this defense takes the next step. You can never have enough cover corners, and Stokes will improve the back end. Because the Packers defensive line gets pushed around in the trenches, the secondary is consistently challenged taking down running backs who break free and Stokes isn't going to solicit supreme confidence tackling NFL backs. They gave Alexander some help with Stokes, now they need to provide Kenny Clark some help. I hope they draft a player like Barmore, Shelvin, McNeill, Nixon, Onwuzurike or Tufele tonight. More room for improvement on defense is needed and Stokes is a great start!
Go Pack Go!