ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia’s Eric Stokes is fast. That has been known for some time. But until he started training for the NFL Draft, nobody was sure exactly just how fast.

Then he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds in front of NFL scouts. That was the fastest time anyone ran in advance of the 2021 NFL Draft, the second-fastest since 2017 NFL Combine when John Ross clocked 4.22 seconds and would have been the fifth quickest in combine history had he been allowed to participate in one.

Now properly validated, Stokes’ blazing speed is finally going to earn him some money. On Thursday, the Bulldogs’ junior cornerback got a surprising first-round call from the Green Bay Packers to become the 29th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Stokes was somewhat of a surprise as a first-round pick. Both outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari and Tyson Campbell averaged higher predraft grades.

But of all the DBs in draft, Stokes had the most speed. And so he was the fifth one chosen Thursday.

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The actual number of NFL players that can run a sub-4.3-second 40-yard dash is considerably less many might think. Stokes not only ran a televised, laser-timed 4.25 40 at Georgia’s Pro Day, he actually did it at least two other times in combine conditions. Word is he went even lower during training and had an eye on the all-time record.

At Georgia, they generally didn’t run 40s, but skill-position players were always fitted with GPS-monitoring devices for practice and games that showed Stokes nearly reaching 22 miles an hour in bursts. Meanwhile, there allegedly were post-practice races between the likes of Stokes and fellow prep track stars such as cornerback Tyson Campbell and receiver Arian Smith.

Victors were never publicly declared. But the Bulldogs were quite certain that Stokes was very fast.

“Speed, speed and more speed, that is the first thing he can bring,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Stokes’ attributes. “He’s a high-character young man who has brought so much to our program.”

Even Stokes seemed to be surprised by his 4.25 40 time. Not that he ran it, but the reaction to it.

“They’re finally acknowledging my speed, like, not pushing it aside,” Stokes said after posting his jaw-dropping time at UGA’s Pro Day. “They actually see I’m really that fast, and it’s really amazing.”

Stokes didn’t play cornerback at Eastside High. That meant a redshirt his freshman year at Georgia to learn the position. He became a part-time starter as a redshirt freshman, then a regular and second-team All-SEC performer as a sophomore. In his last season at Georgia, Stokes’ ball skills caught up with his athleticism. He recorded a team-best 4 interceptions and 94 yards and a TD on returns.

If Stokes’ professional career remains on a similar trajectory, he’s going to become one of the NFL’s best corners – fast.

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