Iowa has a handful of junior players with decisions to make regarding the NFL Draft and on Monday the first domino fell. For the second year in a row, a key member of Iowa's defensive backfield is leaving school early to enter the NFL Draft. Last year it was Amani Hooker, this year it's Geno Stone.
Thank you Hawkeye Nation ! pic.twitter.com/5fevCAa6hs— Geno Stone (@GenoStone22) January 6, 2020
Stone arrived at Iowa as part of the 2017 recruiting class and saw action as a true freshman later that year, primarily on special teams. He saw spot duty on defense, though, highlighted by the first interception of his career in Iowa's win over Illinois. His role grew bigger in 2018 and he moved into the starting lineup as Iowa's starting strong safety when Iowa switched to a base 4-2-5 defensive look and moved Amani Hooker from strong safety to the newly created "cash" position. Stone took over Hooker's position and filled his shoes admirably. He finished with 39 tackles, a forced fumble, four interceptions, and a touchdown. His biggest play of the season came against Penn State, the home state team that had declined to offer him out of high school, when he recorded a pick-six as part of Iowa's comeback effort against the Nittany Lions.
Stone entered 2019 as Iowa's clear-cut starter at strong safety and one of the leaders of the secondary (along with senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia). He ended the season with 70 tackles (46 solo), 3.0 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 4 pass break-ups, two QB hurries, a sack, and an interception. He was, if you'll pardon the pun, the rock in Iowa's defense, at least in the secondary. His leadership and experience was vital, particularly with a new face at free safety (Jack Koerner for most of the season) and injuries forcing several changes at cornerback throughout the year. Stone was a reliable performer for Iowa's defense over the last two seasons and he'll certainly be missed in 2020.
We don't find ourselves too surprised that Stone has decided to leave Iowa early for the NFL Draft, though; careers in football are brutally short, and especially so for players in positions that are so reliant on contact (like strong safety). Stone doesn't have the physical measurements to be a high-end prospect and ensure that he'll be drafted in one of the first few rounds of the NFL Draft -- but another year at Iowa isn't going to make him him appreciably taller or faster, either. It would just be another year of wear and tear on his body. We wish him the best of luck with the NFL Draft and the next steps in his football career.
As for Iowa, they have a few options to consider when it comes to replacing Stone. Kaevon Merriweather started the season at free safety alongside Stone before an injury knocked him out and allowed Koerner to wrest control of that position; it wouldn't be a stretch for Merriweather to slide over to strong safety instead. Dane Belton, who became Iowa's top option at the "cash" position as the season wore on, is also an option to move back to the strong safety position, though doing so would mean that Iowa would need to find a new name to fill the "cash" role. Dallas Craddieth has seen action only sparingly over his first few years at Iowa, but he was a well-regarded recruit when he arrived at Iowa and he has the size (5'11", 215 lbs) to play the position. Sebastian Castro redshirted during his first year at Iowa in 2019, but he was earmarked as a possible safety when he arrived, so he could be one to watch during the spring and summer practice sessions.
Again, best of luck to Geno Stone as he moves on to the next stage of his career -- we'll be rooting for him to continue the proud legacy of Iowa defensive backs in the NFL.