CB Eric Stokes Has Path Back To Packers’ Starting Lineup

An inability to count on Eric Stokes led the Packers to decline the cornerback’s fifth-year option last month. The team has seen injuries sidetrack the 2021 draftee’s career, bringing about a contract year.

Stokes was not viewed as a starter going into training camp last year, despite having worked in that capacity — when healthy — for most of his first two seasons. The Packers had Rasul Douglas and Keisean Nixon working as their Jaire Alexander sidekicks at that point. Douglas is now in Buffalo, and Green Bay did not make a significant offseason addition to address its other boundary CB spot. This reopens the door for Stokes, provided he can stay healthy.

Injuries have defined Stokes’ NFL career, but he may well be the clubhouse leader to start opposite Alexander in Week 1. Stokes sits as the Packers’ current No. 2 cornerback starter, per The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman, with ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky also noting the fourth-year defender is firmly in the mix to reclaim a starting job.

Stokes stayed healthy throughout the offseason program, Demovsky adds, though his past will undoubtedly make CB insurance important in Green Bay. The Georgia alum suffered a Lisfranc injury and sustained meniscus damage in November 2022, ending his second season and requiring multiple surgeries. Stokes attributed his persistent hamstring trouble — which led to two IR placements last season — to overcompensation following the foot injury.

Certainly eyeing a long-term Stokes run as a first-stringer when they drafted him 29th overall in 2021, the Packers used the 6-foot defender as a 23-game starter from 2021-22. Showcasing elite speed (via a 4.25-second 40-yard dash time) at the Combine, Stokes fared well in Alexander’s place. After Alexander’s season-altering shoulder injury moved Stokes into the lineup on a full-time basis, the younger CB allowed only a 49.5% completion rate and a 71.3 passer rating as the closest defender in 2021. Pro Football Focus slotted Stokes 45th among corners that year. PFF did not see Stokes flash the same form in 2022, ranking him 105th among CB regulars. Stokes’ three-game 2023 season can effectively be written off, but it did lead to relevant reps for the other player vying to land the CB2 role.

A 2023 seventh-round pick, Carrington Valentine started 12 games last season and was in Green Bay’s lineup during both playoff contests. PFF ranked Valentine 90th among cornerback regulars last year, however. Alexander also missed time due to injury last season, opening the door for a Valentine-Corey Ballentine combo. Ballentine, a 2019 Giants UDFA, remains on the Packers’ roster, though Schneidman adds a Stokes-Valentine competition will likely decide the starting job opposite Alexander. The loser will supply depth, with the Pack also using a seventh-round pick in a corner (Penn State’s Kalen King) this year.

The Packers shut down Alexander trade rumors after his inconsistent season, keeping his CB-record contract (four years, $84MM) on the payroll. Stokes looms as a bit of a wild card for the team, which has some long-term questions at the position. But he can enhance his value considerably with a solid 2024 season. The Packers hold exclusive negotiating rights with the now-extension-eligible cover man until March 2025.

View Comments (1)