High expectations are even higher this season for Green Bay Packers’ second-year cornerback Eric Stokes now that the national media has finally caught on following his tremendous rookie season in 2021.
In a recent report this week, the Packers’ coaches view Stokes as a “budding star” according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Rapoport went on to say that the “Packers defense should take a leap” and that “Stokes’ continued emergence should be something to watch”.
Last week, I discussed Jaire Alexander’s expected to return to the field this season and the impact he will have on the Packers’ defense, but it appears all of the spotlights are being shed on the other former first-round selection. When the Packers selected Stokes out of Georgia with the 29th selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, few could have predicted the immediate jump he’s made to the next level. Now, the Packers are reaping the rewards of his sudden rise to stardom.
According to the column referenced by Rapoport on The 33rd Team, the NFL’s top cornerback duos were placed in a tier list, ranking the Packers fourth behind the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Former Pro Bowl defensive back Samari Rolle was even cited in the article calling the Packers’ young cornerback duo “the best overall” in the entire league.
For nearly the entire season last year, Stokes was forced to serve as the Packers’ number one corner after Alexander suffered a shoulder injury in Week 4. Lining up against some of the league’s top receivers, Stokes managed to record 14 pass deflections, 55 combined tackles, an interception, along with a 49.5 completion percentage. According to Pro Football Focus, Stokes also allowed the lowest percentage of open targets among cornerbacks and was tied for first among rookies with the most forced incompletions plus interceptions.
Stat-wise, Stokes filled up the charts. But, even more importantly, Stokes was able to carry a massive load last season that can now be lifted off his shoulders, allowing him to play at an even higher-level entering year two. However, there are still some improvements the 23-year-old would like to make this season.
“[I’m] just starting to look for the ball more,” Stokes told reporters during OTAs. “I’ve got to get comfortable with that. 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.”
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray will have their hands full, in a good way, by trying to scheme ways to implement the Packers’ coverage packages this season. The trio of Alexander, Stokes and Rasul Douglas will give the Packers’ coaches one of the best core trios they’ve had at the position since Green Bay last won the Super Bowl in 2010. The formula worked once before, and Stokes is confident it’ll happen again.
“I feel like we can be a really good secondary,” Stokes 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.”
Kole Noble is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in North Carolina and is a huge NFL Draft nut. You can follow him on twitter at @SlawSportsShow.