GREEN BAY – Eric Stokes did his best to keep the cheering to a minimum when the Packers came calling on Thursday night.
But there was no way for the friends and family surrounding the lightning-fast Georgia cornerback to contain their excitement once they learned Stokes was heading to Green Bay with the 29th pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
"I spent (the draft) with people that helped me get here," Stokes said. "When Green Bay called me … I'm telling everybody to be quiet because they're all screaming and already excited.
"It was a surreal moment."
Across the country in Green Bay, Stokes stood out "like a sore thumb" on the Packers' draft board due to his rare combination of size (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and speed (he clocked a pair of sub-4.3 times in the 40-yard dash).
And yet, Stokes is still relatively new to cornerback. A former a state champion sprinter at Eastside High School in Covington, Ga., Stokes leapt onto Georgia's recruiting radar after former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Mel Tucker saw the kid run.
Stokes leaned on that natural athleticism during his early years with the Bulldogs before putting it all together in 2020 when he picked off four passes, returning two for touchdowns, during a first-team All-Southeastern Conference campaign.
"Last year was only my fourth year playing corner," Stokes said. "The first couple years I was more so worried about technique and scheme. This past year, throughout the offseason, quarantine and all this stuff, I made sure I focused in on ball to just be way more comfortable with it.
"I just turned up into a whole 'nother person to where I know for a fact, outside, the wide receiver ain't gonna catch it."
The Packers have made defensive back a major emphasis in the draft in recent years, investing first-round picks in Jaire Alexander (2018) and Darnell Savage ('19), and second-rounders in Kevin King ('17) and Josh Jackson ('18).
General Manager Brian Gutekunst wasn't sure whether Stokes would still available where the Packers were picking Thursday night, but was pleasantly surprised when he saw the corner's name still on the board when Green Bay went on the clock.
"His explosiveness is off the charts," Gutekunst said. "As he continued to play in the SEC, I think you saw his confidence continue to grow and grow and grow. That kind of led him to have the year that he had this year. As we got to know him through this process, he just fit our profile, of not only a player but a person."
Stokes did a little bit of everything at Georgia, even rushing the passer on corner blitzes on occasion. His impactful strip sack of Tennessee quarterback Brian Maurer in October 2019 was the highlight of his college film.
And when it came time to line up across from the best the SEC had to offer, Stokes didn't back down from the challenge. While Stokes says he patterns his game after All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, he also was quick to identify Alexander, a budding star in his own right, as one of his film-room favorites.
"He's greedy, he's hungry to where like he's going to go out there and fight for every little scrap and he isn't going to give up anything," said Stokes of Alexander. "That's pretty much how I look at myself to where I'm going to go out there and give everything that I got."
In Green Bay, Stokes will join a secondary that returns nearly everyone from a unit that finished last season sixth in pass defense. While he just turned 22 last month, Stokes feels ready to compete for a spot straightaway.
"I've already played against NFL-type wide receivers and all that stuff in the SEC," Stokes said. "I believe it don't get better from a college standpoint than the SEC. Going against these wide receivers day in and day out it made me ready for the NFL. I've already been preparing for this the last four years. I'm just ready to come in now."
Take a look at Packers CB Eric Stokes during his college career.