GREEN BAY, Wisconsin. – Eric Stokes’ sprint to the NFL as a first-round pick by the Green Bay Packers began almost exactly five years ago.
On May 14, 2016, Stokes won the Georgia State Championships in the 100 and 200-meter as a junior at Eastside High School. University of Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was there.
“I’m at the Georgia state track and field and I saw this kid win the 100-meter and I said, ‘Holy, Smokes, who the hell is this guy? “Tucker said last week.” He was a really thin kid but he was long and obviously super fast. I texted a few texts and found out that he was a soccer player named Eric Stokes and that ‘he was actually in my catchment area.
“So when I got back to the office I looked in the database and he was there as a running back. Obviously, he wasn’t much appreciated as a 160-pound backer, but I put his strip back together. His climax tape, every play had him playing back and forth. The very last play in the flagship movie, if I remember correctly, was a clip of him playing defense. It was a room. So I did some research. Even though he was a really skinny kid, he was tough. He was a tough runner. So I did a little more investigation and spoke to the coaches and said, ‘His future will be as a defensive back.’ ‘
Eric Stokes gets on Georgia’s radar
Stokes was invited to a football camp in Georgia, where he competed in defense.
“He was very, very, very crude. You could tell he hadn’t played a lot of defense at all, ”recalls Tucker, who played college in Wisconsin and is now the head coach of Michigan State.
Tucker saw a future star and spoke to Eastside coach Troy Hoff. “By the grace of God,” as Tucker put it, Hoff had just hired former Pro Bowl defensive back and 1988 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Erik McMillan to his coaching staff.
“I’m with the coach,” Tucker continued, “and said,“ Look, this kid has to play more defense. I know you have to play him wherever you have to play him on offense to win games, but he has to play on defense. If he can play on defense then I think this guy could be an NFL guy because I saw the strokes and his speed and his length and his competitiveness and his tenacity. This coach worked with him during the summer after he arrived at our camp.
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart did not immediately offer a scholarship, but Stokes remained on Tucker’s radar. A few games in Stokes’ senior season, Tucker returned to film. This time around there were clips of Stokes playing defense and offense.
Tucker was impressed.
The rapid rise of Eric Stokes
“I said, ‘If this kid can improve from the summer to those three games in his senior year in that short period of time, imagine what this guy will be like in four years or three years or two years.” . Tucker said. “It was like there was no way we couldn’t take a risk on this guy. I didn’t think it was risky because I saw the improvement. From the moment I saw him at a track competition, then at a summer camp and the first three games, I said, “It’s a no-brainer. This guy is going to be an NFL guy – high time. But he was extremely crude.
Stokes wore a red shirt in 2017 and got his big break in 2018 against Missouri, when starter Tyson Campbell was injured. Stokes blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown in this game. With the offenses avoiding corner Premier Deandre Baker, Stokes was tested early and was often and continually up to the task. According to Sports Info Solutions, it allowed a capture rate of 33% in 2018, followed by 47% in 2019 and 38% in 2020. Associated with the speed of this sprinter who manifested with a time of 4.29 seconds into the 40-yard scorecard at Georgia’s Pro Day, Stokes sprinted from a high school track to a place in the Green Bay high school.
“He played a lot in Georgia from an early age there and gradually grew as a player,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “The things that really stood out about him, his explosiveness, are out of this world. He is a strong and strong athlete. I think they do a great job over there in Georgia training these guys and as he continued to play in the SEC I think you saw his confidence continue to grow and grow. This led to him having the year he had this year. As we got to know him through this process, he fit our profile perfectly, not just of a player, but of a person. I think he’s going to be a great choice, not just on the pitch but in our locker room.
Packers add 16 rookies, including nine draft picks
First round: Georgia CB Eric Stokes
More Stokes: blown away by over 40 times
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Round two: Ohio State C Josh Myers
More Myers: stands tall in a strong middle class
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Round three: Clemson WR Amari Rodgers
More Rodgers: Gutekunst loses trade but wins player he coveted
More Rodgers: The Short Broken Trend
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Fourth round: Ole Miss OL Royce Newman
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Fifth round: Florida DT Tedarrell Slaton
More Slaton: detailed statistics
Fifth round: CB Shemar Jean-Charles from Appalachian State
More Jean-Charles: detailed statistics
Sixth round: Wisconsin OL Cole Van Lanen
More Van Lanen: detailed statistics
Sixth round: Boston College LB Isaiah McDuffie
More McDuffie: detailed statistics
Seventh round: Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill
More Hill: detailed statistics
Undrafted: Biggest position steal in the league?
Unwritten: screening notice on the seven signatures
Undrafted: Wisconsin OL Jon Dietzen
Undrafted: Iowa OL Coy Cronk
Undrafted: San Jose State WR Bailey Gaither
Undrafted: San Diego State OL Jacob Capra
Undrafted: Michigan OLB Carlo Kemp
Undrafted: Illinois State S Christian Uphoff
Undrafted: Iowa DT Jack Heflin