Some big news for UGA that sort of went under the radar was the decision by Eric Stokes to return for another season with the Bulldogs.
You want to know why Georgia had arguably the best defense in the nation last year? One of the cornerstones was Stokes — the tall and rangy defensive back with elite track speed. He also had perhaps the biggest hit of the season, with this (legal) body blow to Tennessee’s quarterback.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder could’ve declared for last month’s NFL Draft after his first full season with the Bulldogs as a starter. He would’ve likely been drafted in the early rounds, based solely on sheer potential. But Stokes opted to return to UGA, revealing the news in his trademark style: A simple tweet with little fanfare and no press conference.
“I think Eric feels like Georgia could have a pretty good team squad this year, he’s got some unfinished business, and I think he has got respect for a lot of the guys he plays with,” his high school coach, Troy Hoff, told DawgNation on Sunday.
“And I think the second part of (Eric’s decision to return) is that he could definitely help himself for the next level by spending another year at Georgia. So when you combine those two things, I think he’s really looking forward to this season.”
Stokes is not a “rah rah” type of guy like others in team’s secondary and he keeps a low profile among UGA fans, but outsiders are fully aware of his special talents. Stokes earned AP All-SEC (second team) honors last season, among other recognitions.
With a rare combination of size and speed at cornerback, some speculate that Stokes could be the first UGA player selected for the 2021 NFL Draft, barring injury. In fact, a CBS Sports mock NFL draft has the Indianapolis Colts plucking Stokes at No. 14 overall.
Disclaimer: Stokes is a redshirt junior, and can return to Georgia for two more seasons if he chooses.
“You know, he has a skillset and some genetics that are very uncommon – even at that level (in college), with guys who are already so big and who can move like that,” Hoff said. “And Eric is still not a ‘finished product.’
“He’s got some physical traits that the NFL looks at … and takes a very long look at. He has things that you can’t coach. We talk about that always with guys who are difference-makers.”
Stokes also has a reputation for his strong work ethic. Hoff chuckled when asked if his former star player did a good job of staying in shape during the bizarre offseason, when players trained on their own due to COVID-19 concerns.
“What do you think?” Hoff said with a smile. “He is absolutely that guy who puts in the time and hard work. That’s one thing that will never change with Eric.”
Stokes is a former 3-star recruit out of Covington, Ga., and was known more for his track accomplishments than football out of Eastside High School. Former UGA assistant Mel Tucker convinced the rest of staff about Stokes’ projection in football, resulting in a scholarship offer by the Bulldogs. Stokes was redshirted as a freshman.
Here’s more background on Stokes.