Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes is on the road to recovery after last year’s season-ending ankle injury, but he won’t be ready to step back on the field when the team officially begins OTAs on Monday, May 22.
Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry revealed to reporters last week that the team is planning to have Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas at the outside cornerback spots and Keisean Nixon in the slot when they start their first offseason practice on Monday. He also confirmed that, while Stokes is back in the team facility and walking around, he has not been cleared to return to practice from his “substantial” ankle injury.
“Eric had a pretty substantial injury, and he’s on the road to recovery,” Barry said on May 16. “He’s in the building every day. It’s great to see him walking around.”
Fortunately, there is optimism that Stokes will be back on the field with plenty of time to spare. According to Bill Huber of Sports Illustrated, Stokes is “ahead of schedule” in his recovery and is “not expected to miss any portion of [training camp” when it starts toward the end of July. If that holds true, he should be ready for Week 1 in Chicago.
Eric Stokes Entering Critical Year 3 With Packers
The jury is still out on Stokes’ long-term future with the Packers after the 2021 first-round pick experienced a sophomore slump last season prior to his injury.
Stokes had entered 2022 as one of the team’s two starting outside corners along with Alexander, but he proved to be far less effective in coverage than he was as a rookie. Through eight games, he allowed 21 receptions on 25 targets (84%) and didn’t force a single pass-breakup, marking a significant dropoff from 2021 when he held opposing receivers to a near-50% catch rate (49 of 96) and broke up nine passes in 16 games.
The evaluation, of course, was incomplete with Stokes going down with an ankle injury in Week 9’s loss to the Detroit Lions that was quickly confirmed to be a season-ender. It also didn’t help that the entire Packers secondary played below standards in 2022, frequently blowing coverages and missing assignments while also giving a frustrating amount of cushion to opposing receivers too often throughout the season.
Still, the pressure will be on for Stokes to prove he can snap back to being a reliable piece in the secondary. The Packers will have about a year to determine whether they want to pick up his fifth-year option next May, and if his 2023 performance fails to meet or exceed his play as a rookie, he could find himself on shaky ground regarding his future in Green Bay.
Packers Must Solidify Replacement for Adrian Amos
Stokes’ health will be an important part of the equation for the Packers secondary in 2023, but a bigger question for them to start answering during OTAs is how they are going to replace Adrian Amos at strong safety after they opted not to bring back the 30-year-old veteran on a new contract during the offseason.
The prime candidate to take over for Amos is Rudy Ford, who worked his way into the starting lineup at free safety in 2022 after the team bumped Darnell Savage Jr. to the slot and earned a one-year contract extension back in March. With Savage also back on a fully guaranteed fifth-year option, there is a good chance they will look for the two of them to be their primary duo when they take the field for the first practice of 2023.
The Packers also signed another starting-caliber safety in Jonathan Owens on May 12. Owens was a 17-game starter for the Houston Texans in 2022, finishing with a second-most 125 tackles but having an inconsistent year as a coverage piece. He should be the next-up challenge for both Savage and Ford during the offseason along with seventh-round rookie Anthony Johnson Jr., who converted at Iowa State from corner to safety.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst did say following the draft that he was “not going to close the door on” potentially bringing Amos back, but that ship may have sailed with Owens now in the fold and four quality safeties set to compete for roles.