On his first day of practice in Georgia, Eric Stokes was approached by a future first-round pick, cornerback DeAndre Baker, and revealed a secret.
Whatever you do, don’t get beat by nine balls.
Baker meant that if he was facing a wide receiver with a straight pass or fly in practice, Stokes should be behind the receiver to avoid the kind of touchdown that tends to leave emotional scars and swing games. There were few things that head coach Kirby Smart hated more. Of course, Baker had no idea that he was talking to the fastest man in Georgia, literally. If any prospect was losing a foot race, it wouldn’t be Stokes.
Stokes had a tendency to sneak up on people, like when he was just a lanky freshman competing in Georgia high school track and field championships. On a photography later made famous by another entrant, future Browns running back Nick Chubb, Stokes was regaining his balance, head down, calm as a warm breeze, while the muscular Chubb leapt so high into the air during his warm-ups which, due to the angle of the photo, seemed to have cleared the heads of all his competitors. Stokes, who looked like he had stumbled upon the adult race by accident, finished just 0.002 seconds behind Chubb that year, matching the future Pro Bowler step by step.
Baker was not the only one. Few people knew about Stokes on the early morning car trips to school by the housing authority in Covington, Georgia, where Stokes was telling his assistant football coach and athletic coach, Frankey Iverson, that he needed to find some way, anyway, to get Grandma out of this place (she plans to use her first paycheck to buy her a house).
An Ole Miss coach recommended changing the boy from running back, where he had been living his Reggie Bush fantasy from happy childhood, to cornerback. He went to Georgia Tech to watch the Yellow Jackets play Florida State and stuck with Derwin James and Jalen Ramsey, selling himself on the position and plan to get out of Georgia. Stokes won sprinting races across the state in his sophomore and junior years, taking the 100-meter crown on the Adidas Dream Mile despite being invited as a last-minute filler. He begged Iverson to move him from his dominant space, the 400 meters, back to the 100 meters by the end of his high school career and was told he could only do it if he ran faster than anyone else in the school. . In his next run, Stokes smoked the field while pointing towards the press box, letting Iverson know it was time to pay the bet. On the soccer field, he was nervous and dynamic.
Iverson said that while neither team has bothered to call and ask, in all their time together hundreds of 40-yard runs and 100-meter sprints timed manually and by computer, he has never seen Eric slide under the timed equivalent. from a 4.3-second, 40-yard dash. On Georgia’s pro day this year, he ran a 4.25.
“We’ve had some fast kids, but he’s … light years ahead,” Iverson said. “We always feel that speed is speed. If you are fast on a track, you are fast on a soccer field. The difference with Eric is that he is very competitive. Eric has the personality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Outside of the soccer field, he is the warmest and sweetest boy. When the time comes for the competition, I don’t even recognize it. “
When it comes to the class 2021 cornerback hierarchy, Stokes’s name is rarely mentioned, despite the rather obvious tone. As the NFL continues to find ways to put fast offensive weapons into space, why wouldn’t teams take a closer look at the fastest corner of the draft? Despite having spent only five years in the job, Stokes’ technique has been refined to match his athletic ability, setting him apart from prospects who may look more like an Al Davis fever dream with immense potential for failure. He made four passes in nine games in the shortened 2020 season. According to Sports Info Solutions, Stokes allowed an opposing quarterback completion rate of 38% in 2020. In the SEC. Against receivers like DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Ja’Marr Chase, each of whom could get off the board before him. Teams that pitched against him in 2020 experienced an expected negative aggregate points rating of -16, higher than that of Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II. He was removing more than half a point per objective.
Over the past few weeks, according to a league source, his meeting schedule has skyrocketed. Stokes has had at least a third (but often a fourth or fifth) Zoom meeting with a dozen teams. There is a belief among teams that he will not fall below the age of 30.
“The movie speaks for itself,” Stokes said. “Every year, historically, I have supposedly faced the best historical offense of every year. In 2018, Alabama. Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, that was a nasty offense and I think I did my thing. In 2019, [LSU]. Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson. I did my thing again.
“This year, I did a decent job against DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle. I played the best I could against some of the best. “
According to Pro Football Focus premium college stats, over three years when he faced a horde of first-round picks from Alabama and LSU (Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs and Jaylen Waddle) Stokes allowed a total of seven catches on 11 goals for two touchdowns. The longest finish against any of those players was 23 yards.
Those who know Stokes insist his game is different from other track converts, that his speed is functional and not just cultivated for largely pointless training measurements. In high school, he was trained as a 400-meter runner on the theory that all runners slow down at some point, so why not maximize sprint volume? Why not be faster for longer? Why not break the GPS data on your new computer? He’s physical too, ranking as one of the best press corners in this year’s draft. A twist through some of his college tapes is surprisingly violent; a montage of interception returns that shows him battling defenders, blowing up quarterbacks in corner blitzes, and busting mid-range passes that hang over midfield.
Against Alabama in the 2018 national championship, with Alabama driving within the 10-yard line, Stokes faced Jeudy, later a first-round pick from the Broncos. After Stokes jammed him on the line, the Crimson Tide offense sent a tight end to the ground on the same side, creating a kind of friction path meant to put the corner at a disadvantage, slow him down and create separation for Jeudy. Stokes recovered in a short space, opened his 6 ‘frame and broke the pass in the end zone, despite a perfect shot. It had become a habit of stabbing through schemes designed to discourage him.
Stokes also added: He was also never beaten with the nine ball in a game. In Georgia he gave up just three total touchdowns in three years.
“I’m going to give you everything I have. Games? I am sorry. This is where they look at you. It’s the real deal. They are not going to beat me with a nine ball in a game, ”he said.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.