Rookie Eric Stokes passing the eye test in Packers' secondary

First-round pick hasn’t shied from an expanded role in Year 1

CB Eric Stokes

GREEN BAY – Davante Adams saw it coming.

Nearly every day this past summer, the Packers' All-Pro receiver placed his toe on the line of scrimmage and saw rookie first-round draft pick Eric Stokes standing across from him.

Adams and MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers made a few plays against Stokes' coverage, but by the end of training camp, the 22-year-old cornerback had earned the respect of his offensive counterparts.

So much so Adams paid Stokes the ultimate compliment in late August when he compared the rookie to Jaire Alexander and Sam Shields, two of the top cornerbacks the Packers fielded during Adams' first seven years with the team.

"He's the closest thing to Jaire here as far as mentality and ability from what I've seen so far," said Adams at the time. "The kid is fast as hell. He can get beat and recover kind of like how Sam Shields would do."

Today, the NFL is beginning to see what Adams witnessed in the summer. Over the past two months, Stokes has gone from a rookie who played just eight snaps in the opener against New Orleans to Green Bay's most active cornerback, leading his position with 499 defensive snaps played.

Stokes has had to grow up fast in the absence of Alexander, who has yet to return since suffering a shoulder injury against Pittsburgh in Week 4. With veteran Kevin King missing five games of his own due to injury, Stokes was thrown into the fire against some of the league's top receivers.

The rookie didn't just survive, he thrived on the perimeter. Under the tutelage of respected defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, Stokes has allowed just 27 catches on 54 targets (50%) this season for 347 yards and two touchdowns with an interception in nine games, according to Pro Football Reference.

His 75.2 opposing passer rating ranks among the best in a very talented rookie class of cornerbacks.

"He's doing a lot of what I expected him to do based off what I saw early," said Adams on Wednesday. "He's putting a lot into his craft. He's definitely owning up on that, having guys like Jaire in front of him helps a lot. Just kind of seeing the way he navigates, small things like that, just locking in on the details."

While the team holds out hope Alexander can return this season, the All-Pro cornerback continues to rehab around the facility during the week and is with his teammates on the sideline every Sunday.

Known for his quiet intensity, Alexander was voted one of the defense's three captains this year. Since the injury, he's infused a lot of knowledge and confidence into the rookie Stokes, which had a calming effect on the rookie through some tough stretches.

"He's just keeping you in a great mood to where he's constantly around you with good spirits to where you're not worrying about messing up or anything," Stokes said. "Ja, he'll make you laugh. … It makes you totally forget about it, just have fun out there."

Stokes had a bit of an injury scare himself two weeks ago in Kansas City when he tweaked his knee during pregame warmups. Out of an abundance of caution, the team opted not to play him until further tests could be conducted back home.

As it's done all season long, Green Bay's secondary still played well against the Chiefs with King, Rasul Douglas and Chandon Sullivan contributing to Patrick Mahomes' first sub-200-yard passing performance of his NFL career.

Last week, with Stokes back in the lineup, the Packers did the same thing to former Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson, who completed just 20-of-40 passes for 161 yards with two interceptions in a 17-0 shutout loss to Green Bay.

Stokes and the rest of the secondary held Seattle's potent one-two receiving combination of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf to just five catches on 16 targets for 49 yards.

"This is just a big family, like we go pick each other up," Stokes said. "If one of us is down, we're all gonna pick each other up. We know for a fact that we're just gonna continue to have their back and continue to do everything we can to make sure that we get to our end goal."

The challenge doesn't get any easier this Sunday in Minnesota when Stokes and the rest of the secondary must contain budding superstar Justin Jefferson, who has caught 143 passes for 2,175 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 25 career games.

If that wasn't enough, the Packers have to contend with former All-Pro receiver Adam Thielen on the other side. The 31-year-old has 50 catches for 542 yards and seven touchdowns, tied for the fifth-most in the league.

In all likelihood, with defensive coordinator Joe Barry's penchant for allowing corners to play their own side of the field instead of trailing a specific receiver, Stokes will see plenty of both receivers this Sunday.

"I just love how he competes every day," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "He brings it in practice. He's always got a smile on his face. He embraces the opportunity, embraces the challenge and I think you see that on gameday, as well.

"He's getting better and better and we're going to have to get his best this week because again, those two wideouts are as good as it gets."


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