Eric Stokes has been described as “the next Deandre Baker,’ and as much as players hate comparisons, that actually seems pretty fair — at least, for now.
If you’re not familiar with Stokes, he seemingly rocketed out of nowhere towards the end of last season as Georgia’s cornerback, and has had a meteoric rise of notoriety with his stellar play. He started three of the last four games, and earned rave reviews for his performance against Texas’ super-sized receivers in the Sugar Bowl, which ironically Baker sat out.
In case anyone missed all of that, Stokes kicked off Georgia’s spring game by intercepting Jake Fromm and returning it 39 yards for a touchdown.
A first-round mentor
Baker, who later became a NFL first-rounder with the New York Giants, served as a mentor to Stokes while both were at Georgia. They both have similar football backgrounds: Showing up at UGA as unheralded recruits who beat the odds as “self-made” stars, although Stokes’ time has yet to fully arrive.
“Eric learned a lot from ‘Bake,’” said Troy Hoff, who coached Stokes at Eastside High School in Covington, Ga. “Both carried a chip on their shoulders – and ‘Bake’ does to this day. It’s part of what made him such a great competitor and great player as well. They’re maybe not ‘everything, all-around’ corners, but they are hard to beat.
“Baker got picked apart at the NFL combine. He didn’t run as well as he wanted to. But at the end of the day, the NFL scouts are still watching film. What was it – 2.5 years and no one caught a touchdown pass on him in the SEC? The kid can play.
“I think Eric looks at that, and he knows there are areas of his game that he can improve in. For him, being an understudy to Baker and being beside him, it was really huge for Eric’s development.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Stokes is bigger and faster than Baker (5-11 and 185 pounds), while Baker may have the best coverage skills in school history (with NFL Hall of Famer Champ Bailey also in contention). Baker was UGA’s first winner of the Jim Thorpe Award for the college football’s top defensive back in 2018.
The gift Mel Tucker left behind
Baker has left UGA, and so has another key figure in Stokes’ football career. It was former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Mel Tucker who convinced the rest of the staff to take a chance on Stokes when he was a relatively unknown 3-star recruit. Since Stokes was raw and undeveloped – and known more for his track accomplishments rather than football – Tucker (now the head coach at Colorado) had to convince Stokes that he could one day beat out higher-rated recruits and see the field for the Bulldogs.
“Eric knew what he was getting into, with the level of talent at UGA,” Hoff told DawgNation. “Coach Tucker and Coach Smart did a great job with Eric, preparing him, and staying positive with him. They knew because of the skillset that Eric had, it was just a matter of time before he could play at a high level. He just had to learn what they wanted him to do.”
Who knows? If Stokes continues his rapid ascent, maybe one of those freshman defensive backs will be known as “the next Eric Stokes.”