Why the Vikings Should Consider Eric Stokes
Every Vikings fan wants to see this team improve in the trenches, and many of the mock drafts have been reflective of that as well. Well, while everyone is zigging, I’m going to zag. We all know how much Mike Zimmer loves his cornerbacks. He picked up two very good ones in last year’s draft, Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney, so it isn’t out of the question to find a third to replace Mike Hughes or at least help him out.
VT/PTSD’s very own Dustin Baker laid out the case for Patrick Surtain II yesterday should he fall to 14. His argument for drafting a CB basically entailed that the league gets pass-happier every year which makes it tough to say that you can have too many good cornerbacks. It’s even harder to argue against it when they are on such cheap contracts.
Surtain is the best case scenario for Minnesota, at least if they are hellbent on picking a CB. What happens if the best case scenario doesn’t occur, though? Here’s my thoughts on why Georgia’s Eric Stokes should be considered if the Vikings really do want a cornerback.
Stokes’ calling card going into this draft cycle has been his ability to press receivers and play physical ball. He did a great job of rattling opponents before they even got a few yards past the line of scrimmage. His press coverage was elite in 2020, but in the red zone was when he truly shined.
#UGA CB Eric Stokes has recorded 2 PBUs and an INT so far. Two of his best traits that have been on display today are how competitive he is through route stems and turning his head/eyes to find the ball in flight. pic.twitter.com/8z97N4Qt0D— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 10, 2020
The pass-happy NFL that we live in today requires defenses to have a “bend don’t break” mentality much of the time. This season, the Vikings were actually one of the better red zone defenses in the league. Their opponents’ touchdown percentage down there was 58.6%, good for eleventh in the league. Adding Stokes could take the unit from good to elite.
His press coverage led to some of the more elite analytical numbers of any prospect. According to this SI article, Stokes was thrown at 28 times in nine games. Four times he intercepted while four other passes were broken up. He gave up just 0.51 yards per snap this season, better than Patrick Surtain II.
Of course, there are negatives to physical, press coverage. For every big interception or pass break-up, he is liable for a penalty here or there. If he can clean these up, he could become one of the elite corners in the game.
Pass Rush/Run Defense
Stokes is not just helpful at breaking up passes. He can affect a play before the ball even leaves the quarterback’s hands. He is one of the better blitzing corners in this draft, which the Vikings could desperately use after their abysmal pass rush in 2020. This highlight showcases Stokes’ ability to get in the backfield as well as his physicality to force the fumble.
If offensive lines have to keep Stokes in the back of their minds, it takes pressure off the bigger guys up front. His instincts and speed help greatly in that. He projects to run about a 4.5 40 time. To reference, the only cornerback above six feet tall to run 4.5 last year was C.J. Henderson. Stokes has nearly the exact same build at 6’1” 185-pounds.
This blitzing ability translates to helping out in the run game as well, but running backs aren’t the only players I’m keeping in mind here. He is great at wrapping up receivers in run-after-catch situations. His long frame, with a wingspan claimed to be 79 inches, and great technique allows him to wrap up runners with relative ease.
Not only can Stokes help on defense, but he could also provide some much needed relief on the special teams unit. As a freshman, he was not a full-time starting CB, so he spent a lot of time on Georgia’s special teams coverage unit.
The experience on that unit makes him even more valuable to a team like the Vikings who allowed the worst starting drive position in the NFL. Opponents started their drives from the 32.9 yard-line. This put a tremendous amount of Minnesota’s defense, and the special teams need to be cleaned up for 2021. Stokes could help tremendously with that.
My preference for the Vikings, if they are staying at pick 14, is to pick one of Gregory Rousseau, Kwity Paye, or Rashawn Slater. But, as we know, Zimmer will always love his cornerbacks. I would be very surprised if Surtain II or even Caleb Farley made it as far as 14, though.
The cornerback position has become more valuable as each year goes by. For reference, six corners were selected in the first round of last year’s draft. Stokes has been projected by many as a late first-early second round pick, but I think his potential should put him higher than that. We also have to take into account the possibility of the Vikings moving down in the first round or finding a way into the second.
His added value for a Vikings team that needs playmakers on defense and relief on special teams makes this pick less of a reach than it would be for some other teams. If Stokes can clean up some of the penalty issues, he has the potential to be the best corner in this draft. I’m sure Slick Rick Spielman has his eye on him as well.