Following a breakout junior season that saw him solidify his spot in the national spotlight, Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes Jr. declared for the 2021 NFL Draft this past winter.
The former Eastside Eagle announced the decision on his personal social media account Dec. 28, 2020.
“First, I want to give thanks to God because without him none of this would even be possible,” Stokes stated in a Twitter post. “I want to thank my family for continuing to believe in me at my lowest and pushing me to be better. I want to give my eternal thanks to the University of Georgia for giving me the opportunity to grow and develop into the man I am today.”
Stokes elevated himself into one of the most revered defensive backs in the country last fall. He started all nine of Georgia’s games, recording 20 tackles and four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. In the months since he officially declared, he’s been projected to be drafted within the first three rounds.
The 2021 NFL Draft will take place Thursday, April 29, through Saturday, May 1. As Stokes continues his preparation and waits to be selected by one of 32 NFL teams, he spoke with The Covington News to reflect on his time at Georgia and look ahead to what’s coming next:
MW: You’ve declared for the 2021 NFL Draft. Now that your time in Athens has ended, how would you evaluate your collegiate career?
ES: “My time at Georgia had its ups and downs I would say, of course. But then again, I always kept myself level-headed. I really enjoyed my time being there, though. Being there was some of my best four years of my life so far. I met some great people, I met some great coaches. I’m going to cherish every little moment.”
MW: You’ve blossomed from a 3-star athlete at Eastside High School to a coveted NFL prospect now projected to be selected within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. Have you felt that the national exposure has changed anything about your mindset?
ES: “Oh, no. Oh, no. It’s never [like] that. I still have the same type of mindset that I’ve always had because it doesn’t matter. I’m still so far underneath the radar that it’s crazy. I’m always just out here doing me, and I’m always going to keep that same mindset. I know how it feels to not have the opportunities, so I’m going to continue to do everything I can to make sure that I don’t have to do that again.”
MW: As Draft day approaches, your name is continuously being mentioned in mock drafts while your tape is being analyzed by media pundits and NFL general managers alike. I would imagine this process makes it increasingly more difficult to block out any outside noise. How do you go about doing so?
ES: “It’s crazy. I try not to [pay attention to it,] but then again, you know, with social media today there is no way. Like, there is no way you can’t see that. Pretty much you see people have their experts saying he’s going here, he’s going there. You have no choice but to see it. It is really difficult, but I try to pay it no mind. People tweet at me and tag me, but I try to pay it no mind because pretty much at the end of the day, all of that doesn’t matter. You can go in the first round, you can go second round, you can go undrafted. But once you get an opportunity, it really doesn’t matter.”
MW: When an NFL team does decide to give you an opportunity, what type of player and person will they be getting?
ES: “They’ll get the same person that, I know for a fact, they’ve done their research on. He’s coming in and he’s hungry. He’s going to be there on time. You don’t have to worry about any negative things coming with him because that’s never going to be me. And they’ll be getting a guy that’s smiling and loving. It doesn’t matter what type of day I’m having, I’m always going to try to be in a good mood. So you’re going to get a guy that you’re rarely going to hear [negative] things from, and you’re going to get a guy that’s competitive, hungry and pretty much like that.”
MW: During your time at UGA, you still came back to Eastside to attend football games, workout on campus and support your alma mater. How nice is it to be able to come back to where you planted your roots?
ES: “Oh, man, it’s great. I’m going to wear Eastside out. It doesn’t matter; anytime, anywhere, I’m always going to come back and work out at Eastside. It’s just home. It’s home. I can do my own workout, I can do this, I can do that. And I know the coaching staff, so if I want to jump in while their working out, I can do that as well. There’s so many options it makes it easy for me.”
MW: You came from Eastside and thrived in the Southeastern Conference. Recent Newton High School graduate Nyland Green is now enrolled at UGA. Countless other student-athletes from Newton County across all sports have gone on to make a significant impact at the next level. Would you say it’s safe to assess the secret is getting out that this area is a hotbed for athletic talent?
ES: “Of course, of course. I’ve literally always believe that. Once I got to college, I used to tell people, ‘OK, then. Y’all are lucky that you didn’t play in Covington. We’ve got boys out there.’ I always say, ‘Y’all boys are lucky that you’ve never played anybody like this.’
MW: Do you have any more workouts or combines scheduled between now and the NFL Draft?
ES: “No. Right now I’m down here in Miami, Florida, working out and slowly getting ready for the Draft. I’m just staying in shape, lifting weights and all that good stuff.”
MW: What are your plans for the weekend of the Draft?
ES: “I’ll be hanging out with family and my friends who have been around me and helped me throughout this process. I’m just going to be chilling.”
The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will start at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 29, and go on until approximately 11:30 p.m. The second and third rounds will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 30, with Saturday’s coverage of the final four rounds beginning at noon. All seven rounds will be broadcasted live on ESPN, ABC and NFL Network.