The Buffalo Bills should be on the hunt to upgrade their athleticism at the No. 2 cornerback position over unlikely success story Levi Wallace in this year’s draft. It has felt like a position that needs addressing the past couple of years by this regime, yet hasn’t been prioritized. The signings of players like Josh Norman and E.J. Gaines to add competition to the room in 2020 did not do much to restore faith in the importance put on the position. Neither did waiting until the seventh round of the draft to select their first corner in 2020 when Dane Jackson out of Pittsburgh was picked as a feisty flyer with below-average size and athleticism. With Norman and Gaines no longer a part of the team, the opposite corner spot to Tre’Davious White looks like a competition between Wallace and Jackson as of right now—with no additions of any kind made this offseason. Is this finally the year a corner gets the priority pick treatment from general manager Brandon Beane? That remains to be seen.
The University of Georgia has a couple of athletic studs at the corner position in this year’s draft. One of them is Eric Stokes, who clocked a blistering 4.31 40-yard dash in the pre-draft process and was a former track star in high school. You want athleticism? You can get that with Stokes plus much more.
CB Eric Stokes (Georgia) Scouting Report
Measurables: 6’0” 194 lbs
2020 stats: 20 tackles, four interceptions, four passes defended
Year: RS Junior
Pro day testing: 4.31 40-yard dash, 38.5” vertical jump, 10’8” broad jump, 6.96 three-cone, 4.36 shuttle, 14 bench press reps
Despite being a redshirt junior, Eric Stokes was one of the veterans on a young, talented Georgia defense where he was part one of a two-headed corner duo with fellow 2021 NFL Draft hopeful Tyson Campbell. A three-year contributor at Georgia, Stokes found all of his career interceptions in 2020 with four while taking two of them for touchdowns. Stokes burned up his pro day, exhibiting track speed and explosiveness in his testing. The problem is that one of the primary issues with Stokes when you pop on his tape is functional athleticism on the football field. Mechanical transitions and limited agility will hold Stokes back in off-man situations. Overall, Stokes should be a second-round pick who gets the opportunity as a No. 2 corner to play primarily in zone or press man coverage. Although, cornerback needy teams could reach in the back end of the first for a player like Stokes.
- Length is an asset to affect throwing windows in zone coverage
- Ball production took a major leap in 2020
- Zone spacing is very good; excels playing in “cloud” coverage where he can roam 7-10 yards off the line of scrimmage
- Does well to force boundary receivers to the sideline in man coverage; gives himself the leverage to win in these situations
- At his best when he can use his physicality to affect opposing receivers; it’s a key crutch to allowing him to mirror routes
- Football IQ is one of his best attributes; he often reads the quarterback’s eyes and takes worthwhile gambles to make a play on the ball
- Technique can get sloppy; panic can set in when receiver forces the issue
- Play speed doesn’t line up with pro day testing
- Transitions can be a bit mechanical
- Not agile in short areas; Alabama (2020) gave him fits
- Can get grabby at the top of the route stem
- Stiff lower half will limit his NFL potential
- Explosive route runners are going to give him trouble at the next level
- A much more comfortable player in zone than man coverage
- Struggles mightily to stay in phase with off-man coverage
- Generally not an active participant in run support
Draft projection: Late first to second round
Why he fits the Bills
For a team like the Bills who are used to playing primarily in zone coverage, Stokes makes a lot of sense schematically. Although he tested like an elite athlete, Stokes doesn’t necessarily play like it on the field. He shouldn’t be the first option for the Bills at 30. But if the team is dead set on selecting a corner in the first round, there’s reasonable suspicion to believe that Stokes could be a scheme and culture fit with a high football IQ. The team should be looking to get more coverage versatile and I'm not sure that Stokes provides that to this roster given his strengths and weaknesses. I was more impressed with what he did closer to the line of scrimmage in zone rather than bailing into cover 3 looks (which the Bills run a lot of on defense). Additionally, Stokes isn’t much of an asset in run support. It’s not out of the question that Stokes would be available when the Bills select in the second round either. There might be better options at 30. But since corner is such a strong need for this team, mentioning Stokes seems logical for better or worse.