The 2021 NFL Draft is deep at cornerback, but there’s one player that deserves a bit more buzz than he’s currently receiving.
Eric Stokes, out of Georgia, checks every box. He blew up his Pro Day by running a blazing 4.25-second 40-yard dash. He has great size for the position. Stokes was incredibly productive during the 2020 season.
Stokes, a well-rounded prospect with first-round talent, spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about what makes him this year’s best cover man, his incredible Pro Day, the best receiver he’s ever lined up against, and what he’s going to contribute in his rookie season.
JM: You have a background in track and field. You also played the running back position in addition to cornerback in high school. How do you think those two experiences made you a better defensive back?
ES: My track background lets me know that I’m not gonna get beat deep. I’ve always trusted my deep speed. I don’t even think about that. I don’t care if you’re trying to run a 9-ball, a post, or whatever. I have the speed to shut it down. If I do get beat, I have the speed to recover. Recovery speed is huge.
As far as my background as a running back goes, you still see it when I get the ball in my hands. I’m looking to score every time I touch it. I’ll take it back to my running back days. The four interceptions I had this past season, I returned two of them for touchdowns. You saw my running back skills on those plays.
JM: We saw it on tape. You ran a ridiculous 4.25 at your Pro Day. You blew up social media. A lot of people have been talking about how good these 40 times have been but I felt like yours was a little different. You were a track star. We know that you’re fast.
ES: It was just another opportunity for me to go out there and prove myself. It was another event that allowed me to showcase my abilities. I took it as a chance to show off my speed. A lot of people didn’t realize how fast I am. I was ready to showcase that speed. I didn’t necessarily show my speed during a lot of games. I didn’t have to. I’ve never been a guy that leaned on my speed. That’s not how I play the game. I lean on my technique. So, I used the Pro Day to show people that I could really run. I was moving out there. It was a great day for me.
JM: Nobody can question your speed anymore. When I turn the tape on, I see a cornerback that’s a good press-man corner. That’s one of your strengths in my opinion. How did you develop that aspect of your game?
ES: Georgia developed that. I didn’t have a choice. We played a bunch of press-man coverage. You have to lock in on working on your skills in press coverage 24/7. That’s one area of my game that’s well developed. We did it every day. I got into a rhythm with it. It comes naturally to me now. Georgia was all about press coverage. I’m very confident in my ability to play press coverage.
JM: Tell me more about what Georgia ran on defense and what your coaches asked of you.
ES: They put us cornerbacks on an island more often than not. We played a lot of man. We may have had some help over the middle from one of the safeties, but for the most part, we were on our own. We had to go out there and be successful on an island. We always had to know where the ball was being thrown. We had great run stoppers on defense. We put a lot of emphasis on that. That was the first rule. We had to stop the run. The coaching staff trusted us to play man coverage on an island. The front seven had to stop the run and we had to do our jobs on the boundary. As a cornerback, you love playing in our Georgia defense. You really had to showcase your skills. If you’re not a good player, you’re gonna get exposed (laughs).
JM: I love that. They trusted you to make plays. You played a lot of man coverage as you said, but you did mix it up some. You played zone coverage too. Tell me a little about your experience in zone, and how you approach it differently than man coverage?
ES: With our zone coverage, yeah we dropped into a zone, but we still matched up with a receiver at the end of the day. We still had to match a receiver. When the ball was thrown, you were gonna be on somebody regardless of it being zone. It was a man-match defense. So even when we dropped in zone, we still had to connect to a body. We were responsible for an area of the field. But when we played Mississippi State, we dropped in true zones. We could have a match-up or we could drop in space. That felt great too because it was something new for us. We all fell in love with that.
JM: That’s a great breakdown. I know that you’ve been feeling a little disrespected on social media lately. Why are you the best cornerback in this draft?
ES: I feel like I’m the best cornerback in this draft because I can do it all. I can do things other corners can’t. I’m telling everybody the same thing. I’m a vulture. I’m gonna go into the league and take every scrap I can get. I’m coming for the crumbs too. I want it all. I’m a savage. I’m gonna take it all. I’m gonna take plays away. I’m gonna create turnovers. I’m gonna force fumbles. I’m gonna take it. I’m gonna grab this opportunity by the horns. I’m that person. People are sleeping on me. They say I’m not this or that. They don’t think I’m one of the big dogs. I’m telling you, man. I’m a vulture. It is what it is.
At the end of the day, people are gonna know who I am. It doesn’t matter how much you try to discredit me. We’re not gonna do all that. At the end of the day, I’m a vulture. I’m gonna come in and do everything I’m saying I’m gonna do. You’re gonna feel me at the next level. The film doesn’t lie.
JM: I love your confidence. You back it up on tape. You’ve spent the last few months meeting with NFL teams on Zoom. What’s that process been like for you?
ES: It’s been a great process. I’ve enjoyed meeting all of these teams and speaking with their coaching staff. It’s a dream come true for me. This is what I’ve been waiting for my entire life. My meetings have been long but I’ve been loving it. You only get one shot at this. I don’t have any complaints at all. I’m living life to the fullest right now.
I wish I could tell you all the teams I’ve been meeting with (laughs). I have to keep it private. We’ll leave it up to draft day and see what happens.
JM: That makes sense. There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. Coming into 2020, there were some questions surrounding your ball skills. I thought you did a great job answering the call. You had four interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns. How did you take such a big step forward in this area?
ES: I made it a priority. I knew I had to make more plays on the ball. The past few seasons, I didn’t even worry about that. I was so focused on playing tight coverage and making sure that I didn’t allow any catches, I wasn’t even thinking about interceptions like that. I was just making sure that receivers weren’t catching anything.
This past year, I just had more confidence in my ability to create turnovers. I heard everybody talking about it. I made it a priority now. I took it beyond the fact that I didn’t want receivers to catch the ball. I wanted to catch the ball now. Let me find the ball and make a play on it. I wasn’t gonna leave Georgia without an interception to my name. That would have eaten me alive to the day I die. I was not leaving Georgia until I recorded an interception. I got four of them.
JM: It was exciting to watch how many plays you made on the ball this past season. We‘ve talked about how Georgia left you on an island. They put you in a position to compete with some of the best receivers in college football. Who would you say are some of the top guys you’ve gone up against?
ES: I always say that Van Jefferson from Florida was one of the best receivers I’ve ever played against. He’s with the [Los Angeles] Rams now. You’re gonna get his best. I have to tip my cap to him. He understands the game at a high level. He’s a terrific route runner. He has such a smooth release coming off the line of scrimmage. He’s an excellent wide receiver. He’s wild. He was calling out some of our plays (laughs). I thought we did a great job disguising everything that we did but he was out there calling things. He saw right through our disguises and knew what we were trying to do. We would line up and he would just start pointing things out. I was like damn, you’re a smart guy (laughs). He’s a crisp route runner. He’s one of the best receivers I’ve ever faced.
JM: That’s a terrific story on a receiver that I feel is very underrated. If you could sit down with any cornerback in the NFL, who would you talk ball with?
ES: That’s a great question. I would probably go with Jaire Alexander from the Green Bay Packers. I love how he plays the game and how he carries himself. He has that dog mentality. Earlier, I called myself a vulture. He’s a vulture too. He’s taking every little scrap out there. I would love to pick his brain. I want to talk to him about his technique. He’s so aggressive. I just love him as a player.
JM: That’s a great choice. How do you approach a bigger, more physical receiver in coverage differently than you do a smaller, shiftier one?
ES: If I’m matched up with a bigger receiver, I like fighting power with power. I know for a fact that he’s gonna try to outmuscle me. Those guys wanna use their size to their advantage. They think they can bully you and push you around. I love that. I welcome the challenge. I rather go up against a bigger receiver than a smaller one. That’s just my preference because I hit them with finesse. The bigger ones, they don’t think I’m strong enough. They don’t think I’m all that but I change their minds. Eventually, they find out that I have some fight in me. I love fighting power with power.
JM: That’s the best way to approach those guys. I’ve really appreciated your time today. I feel like this conversation has showcased why you’re one of the best cornerbacks in this draft. In closing, what kind of impact is Eric Stokes gonna make at the next level?
ES: I’m gonna make a huge impact at the next level. You’re gonna feel me. It’s gonna be hard to miss. You’re gonna watch me get better and better every single week. You’re gonna watch me on Sundays. I can promise you that. I’m gonna be a consistent player. It doesn’t matter where I go. I’m gonna give that team all I have to offer. Wherever I go, I’m gonna make the team better.