Longtime Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz says seventh-round safety Geno Stone and undrafted linebacker Kristian Welch, both of whom are now Ravens after solid careers with the Hawkeyes, remind him of former Iowa players who went on to have successful careers in the NFL.
Stone played at Iowa from 2017-2019, accumulating 126 tackles, six interceptions and four forced fumbles. Seventy of his tackles came as a junior in 2019, while four of his interceptions came as a sophomore. The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Stone ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The Ravens took Stone in the seventh round with the No. 219 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, which NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah called the best value pick of the round.
Ferentz compared Stone to Buffalo Bills cornerback Micah Hyde, who played at Iowa from 2009-2012, and Los Angeles Chargers safety Desmond King, who played for the Hawkeyes from 2013-2016. Hyde was drafted in the fifth round by the Green Bay Packers in 2013 after picking off eight passes in four years at Iowa, while King was taken in the fifth round in 2017 by Chargers after recording 14 interceptions with the Hawkeyes.
Hyde and King were “two guys that were really good players that were committed to the MAC conference, and we offered them late and then they came in and played early and played well,” Ferentz said on Glenn Clark Radio April 27. “Geno’s the same scenario. I think if you looked at Micah or Desmond, look at their Combine numbers, Geno’s probably the same. He’s not going to be up in the top 10 percent or 25 percent of guys at his position, but fortunately when you play football there are other things that factor into being a good football player.”
Ferentz explained that Stone, a graduate of New Castle (Pa.) High School, played quarterback and defensive back in high school. Iowa offered the consensus three-star prospect a scholarship in January 2017, and he committed later that month. He played in all 13 games as a freshman, setting the stage for productive sophomore and junior years.
Ferentz said Stone’s film study helped him recognize offenses, anticipate what’s coming and play fast — something that could be said for Hyde and King, too.
“Maybe a shade not tall enough, maybe a half-step not fast enough, all those things, but all the intangibles really made up for it,” Ferentz said. “He’s a very heady player, a guy who really likes football, has a football mentality. Really, when he walked on campus he competed really well with our older guys, so he was in our two-deep that entire freshman year and got a chance to play a predominant role in our last game against Nebraska and did a great job. He’s had a really nice career, but he’s a tremendous young person first and foremost.”
Stone now joins a crowded defensive backfield. Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Iman Marshall and Anthony Averett top the depth chart at cornerback, while Earl Thomas, Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott return at safety. Baltimore was No. 6 in the NFL in passing yards allowed (207.2 yards per game) in 2019.
Stone will almost certainly need to carve out a role on special teams to crack the 53-man roster in 2020, but Clark provides a path for him to follow. Clark, a sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, played 75 and 78 percent of special teams snaps in 2017 and 2018, respectively, before taking over a starting safety position in 2019. He signed an extension worth $10 million guaranteed in February.
“Seventh-rounders have a steeper hill to climb than first-rounders, certainly, but Geno’s a really good football player,” Ferentz said. “He’s a great special teams guy. If he’s going to make the team, he’s going to have to do a great job on special teams and prove that he’s a versatile guy that can play in the back end.”
Stone won’t be the only Hawkeye trying to make the Ravens. Kristian Welch, who played for Iowa from 2016-2019, signed as an undrafted free agent and will join a linebacker group that includes new draftees Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison and holdovers L.J. Fort, Otaro Alaka and Chris Board. Welch posted 144 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions during his four years at Iowa.
Ferentz said he’s contacted those who run the Combine twice in his 21 years as Iowa’s head coach about players he thought should’ve been invited but weren’t. Welch was one, and the other was defensive end Aaron Kampman, who was drafted out of Iowa in the fifth round in 2002 by the Green Bay Packers. He played in the NFL until 2011 and racked up 58 sacks.
“They just totally missed the boat on that one. I felt the same way about Kristian,” Ferentz said of Kampman and Welch not receiving Combine invites. “I’ll give them a hall pass because Kristian had some injuries this year where he missed [three games] in the middle part of the season. I can tell you this: When he did come back, we played our best football and I think he was a big part of that. He was our middle linebacker, our signal caller.”
Ferentz said Welch was “a little bit mechanical, a little bit robotic” as a player before the 2019 season but turned the corner as a senior. He had 86 tackles and two sacks in helping lead Iowa to a 10-3 record. Ferentz compared Welch to two former Hawkeyes who are now with the Kansas City Chiefs: linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann.
Hitchens was drafted in the fourth round in 2014 and has made 527 tackles in six years. Niemann signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and has 66 tackles to his name the past two seasons. Ferentz thinks Welch has a chance to follow in their footsteps.
“I’m not saying he’s going to make the Ravens, but my guess is he’ll be there when they’re trying to make their final cuts,” Ferentz said. “He’ll probably be a guy that they’re going to think long and hard about because he’s got a lot to offer.”
To hear more from Ferentz, including memories from his time on the Ravens’ coaching staff from 1996-1998, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Brian Ray/Iowa Athletics