Eric Stokes ripped off a 40-yard dash in blazing fashion at Georgia Pro Day on Wednesday, hitting the rarified air of the 4.2-second range to silence any remaining doubters.
Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout and the executive director of the Senior Bowl, said his former peers in the scouting and coaching ranks who were on the field clocked Stokes’ two runs between 4.25 and 4.30 — first-round speed at any position.
And yet Stokes, who the Scouts.Inc service had ranked as the No. 76 overall player and No. 10 corner, was far from satisfied with his performance.
It wasn’t Stokes’ 38.5 vertical or 130-inch broad jump. Those numbers also verified Stokes’ great athleticism and explosion. Instead, it was the ball drills.
“I know for a fact I have to improve my ball skills,” Stokes said after his Wednesday workout. “Me dropping things that I know I’ve done over and over again …. I don’t care about all the good stuff I did today, the vertical, the broad jump.
“All I’m thinking about is the things I did not do well today, and that’s going eat me alive.”
It’s that sort of high self-standard that has enabled Stokes to rise up from being the lowest-rated player in the Bulldogs’ 2017 signing class to the verge of becoming a first-round 2021 NFL Draft pick.
Bottom line, Stokes has established himself as a legit first-round draft pick, and there’s still room for him to improve — and the NFL teams all know that.
Those teams saw why Stokes’ earned All-American honors, and how he had four interceptions and two Pick-6s in only nine games this season.
Coach Kirby Smart, who was on hand at the workout supporting his players and visiting with his friends in the NFL coaching profession, was clearly proud of how Stokes grew in the Bulldogs’ football program the past four seasons.
What Smart and NFL coaches evaluating Stokes already know is this is a player who’s still growing at the position. Stokes played running back most of his prep career before getting work at cornerback as a senior.
“Stokes is a really interesting story, not many people know the whole story and backdrop,” Smart said after Wednesday’s Pro Day. “Coach Mel Tucker (former DC and secondary coach) and I, we had a lot of conversations about Stokes throughout the years. I can’t tell you that season how many times I went back and watched him in camp when he was here, and on his high school highlight tapes where he would take a ball at running back and just outrun everybody.
“We felt there was this raw and talented guy right down the road — weren’t looking at ratings like I know a lot of you guys do. No knock, but we don’t really care about ratings. We just evaluate the tape, and we let the tape speak for itself.”
According to Smart, the staff recognized Stokes’ character, and the tape said speed and length made him a prospect worth pursuing.
“Most kids don’t want to redshirt, but he developed,” Smart said. “Mel was very patient with him, Mel taught him very well.
“(Stokes) was a hard-hosed, get-better player. He had a long way to go, but by his redshirt freshman year, he came on and played against Auburn and played really well, and he played well at Missouri at times.”
The bottom line, Smart said, is Stokes “kept getting better” and “he improved in a lot of areas that he wasn’t great.”
Nagy, who provides analyst for ESPN during the NFL draft process, sees Stokes as a first-round prospect who has more work to do, as Stokes himself said.
“Stokes blew it out in the workout with all those numbers; 4.2s are rare, that’s rare speed,” Nagy said. “In 20 years, I’ve only timed a handful.
“Stokes got better this year at the line of scrimmage and had some production on the ball. With his combination of length and speed, he could go in the first round.”
Teams will want to see Stokes even more aggressive in run support and playing a more physical brand at the next level.
But it’s clear Stokes is on his way to that sort of improvement, and Wednesday was just another step in the right direction with his workout and the hunger he displayed.
“It doesn’t matter what scheme I’m gonna be in, because this is only my fourth year playing DB,” Stokes said. “You can throw me into any scheme. I might be rough around the edges at first, but …. I believe I’m one of the best.”
Stokes said he’s motivated by the low draft rankings some have projected, but he also understands NFL teams aren’t going to tip their hand if he is their first-round target.
For not, the lack of respect is motivating him, and working for him.
“I’m used to being the underdog,” said Stokes, who had to compete with fellow 2021 NFL Draft prospect and former 5-star Tyson Campbell for playing time in 2018. “I love that underdog role. I know at the end of the day, the cream will rise to the top.”