2020 saw the New York Giants secondary take a big step forward over previous years. That improved secondary lead to more effective blitz packages and more time for defensive linemen to rush the passer. But as much improvement as the secondary showed, it still had flaws that offenses could exploit.
Perhaps the biggest flaw was the lack of a versatile and reliable number two cornerback. The Giants rotated players at that position throughout the season, but were limited in the types of coverages they could call. While adding a CB2 isn’t their highest profile need, it might be necessary if the team wants to maintain the ground they gained in defensive play.
Georgia’s Eric Stokes certainly isn’t the highest profile cornerback in the draft. He isn’t an elite athlete or spectacularly physical, but he is versatile, reliable, and checks a number of boxes important to the Giants.
Prospect: Eric Stokes
Games Watched: vs. Tennessee (2020), vs. Florida (2020), vs. Auburn (2020), vs. Alabama (2020)
Games Played: 32
Tackles For a loss: 2.0
Passes Defensed: 22
Games Played: 10
Tackles For a loss: 0.0
Passes Defensed: 4
Interceptions: 4 (2 returned for touchdowns)
Best: Length, foot quickness, lower-body fluidity, versatility
Worst: Closing burst, awareness
Projection: A number 2 or 3 cornerback with scheme versatility.
(Stokes is Georgia CB, number 27)
Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes possesses the length, foot quickness, hip fluidity, and scheme versatility that NFL scouts look for at the position.
Stokes primarily lined up as an outside cornerback in Georgia’s defense, playing both the left and right side of the defense. Georgia asked Stokes to play in zone and man coverage, and he was able to execute in both schemes.
Stokes gets good depth in his zone drops, with good discipline and patience in picking up players entering his zone. He was also asked to play in both press-man and off-man coverage and showed the ability to execute in both techniques. Stokes has the length to jam most receivers at the line of scrimmage. He has the foot quickness and hip mobility to transition from his backpedal to running downfield quickly and with little wasted motion, allowing him to stay with most receivers throughout their routes.
He has improving ball skills, using his length to disrupt at the catch point. Stokes disrupts a good number of passes and was finally able to record his first interceptions in 2020, turning some of those passes defensed into interceptions.
Stokes is a willing run defender who doesn’t shy away from contact and is a generally reliable tackler who wraps up and gets ball carriers on the ground. That said, his relatively slight frame works against him and he can be overwhelmed by blockers.
Likewise, Stokes is not an explosive athlete, which can limit him in certain situations. He lacks a strong burst, making it difficult for him to close on the ball quickly when playing in off or zone coverage, and making his blitzes ineffective. Likewise, he can have issues staying with particularly fast receivers down the field. Stokes also needs to become more consistent in the mental aspect of the game. He has occasional lapses in awareness while in coverage, either losing track of players on the field or failing to react to receivers’ body language. He can also get “grabby” when playing press man coverage, which could lead to defensive pass interference calls at the NFL level.
Overall Grade: 7.7 - This prospect has the potential to be a lower-ceiling starter or a primary depth piece with schematic versatility.
Eric Stokes projects best as a No. 2 starting cornerbacl or a primary depth player at outside corner for a team that uses a lot of nickel packages.
Stokes doesn’t have the athletic upside to be considered a “No. 1” corner who matches up with, and follows, a team’s top receiver. However, he has a relatively high floor with the ability to execute a number of coverage schemes and play in just about any defense.
The NFL will certainly like Stokes’ length and lower body fluidity, as well as his experience and ability to play press-man coverage. Teams will want to avoid matching him up on particularly fast or big receivers, as he can be overwhelmed by either trait, but he should be able to cover the majority of NFL receivers.
Stokes’ ball skills are still developing, but he showed improvement in that regard over the course of the 2020 season. He probably shouldn’t be expected to generate a high volume of turnovers, but his ability to be disruptive at the catch point will be valuable. He will still need to work with coaches on becoming more consistent in his awareness, both in zone coverage and of receivers’ body language at the catch point. There are instances where Stokes can lose track of the players around him, making him vulnerable to route concepts designed to create “natural” rubs. Likewise he can be prone to grabbing receivers, which will draw DPI penalties at the NFL level.
But while Stokes might not have a sky-high ceiling, he has the floor to be a reliable player at a valuable position.