By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Playing football at the highest level is a violent and dangerous race against time.
And time always wins, it’s just a matter of how and when.
The average career of an NFL player only lasts for 3.3 years, which is less than most college careers.
That was probably one of many factors that defensive back Geno Stone considered as he decided whether to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft or return to Iowa for his senior season.
Stone announced his decision late Monday afternoon, saying that he will skip his senior season to enter the draft.
"Since the bowl game, I have had plenty of time to think deeply about my future and weigh the pros and cons of my options," Stone said. "With that said, after serious discussion with my family, confidantes and coaches, (and a lot of prayers), I have decided to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft. Without God, none of this would be possible.
Stone thanked his coaches, his teammates, his support staff and the Iowa fans for making his dream come true.
His decision to leave came as no surprise because Stone spoke and acted like somebody who was on the verge of moving on to a new challenge in the moments after the Holiday Bowl last month in San Diego.
Stone really seemed to want to savor the moment as if he knew that his days as a Hawkeye were almost over.
The Pennsylvania native is the first player from Iowa’s 2019 squad to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, but is expected to be joined by junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa and junior offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs at some point.
Epenesa and Wirfs both project as a possible first-round picks, while Stone is considered more of a mid-to late-round pick.
But even as a late-round pick, it makes sense why Stone would leave because it’s unlikely that his NFL stock would change much by playing in college for another season.
Former Iowa defensive back Desmond King returned for his senior season after having won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2015 as the nation’s top collegiate defensive back, but he still lasted until the fifth round of the 2017 draft.
Stone started all 13 games at strong safety this past season and was named second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches.
He could’ve played as a senior and possibly made first-team All-Big Ten.
But how much with that have helped Stone's NFL stock? Probably, not much.
Stone still would have the same physical strengths and weaknesses, along with another year of wear and tear on his body.
It comes down to striking when you’re hot, and Stone apparently feels that he is hot right now.
We have to assume that Stone spoke with enough people who had his best interest, and who had enough inside information, including Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, to get a pretty clear picture of where he ranks.
Former Iowa defensive back Amani Hooker made the same decision as a junior last year, and he would go on to be selected by the Tennessee Titans in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Hooker made the Tennessee roster and has played a key role on special teams as a rookie.
Hooker is one of four former Iowa players who left college with eligibility remaining after last season to enter the draft.
The others were tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both of whom were selected in the first round by Detroit and Denver, respectively, and defensive end Anthony Nelson, who was taken in the fourth round by Tampa Bay.
Iowa also had two players leave early for the 2018 draft as center James Daniels and defensive back Josh Jackson both were picked as juniors in the second round by Chicago and Green Bay, respectively.
That is six Iowa players who left early for the NFL Draft in just two years, and all six players not only were drafted, but also made NFL rosters.
That had to make an impression on Stone.
He saw them all getting paid handsomely to play football, and now feels that he is in position to do the same thing.
There is always a risk in returning to college to play any sport, but obviously, the risks are more extreme with football just due to the nature of the sport.
A body can only take so much pounding, and that always has be considered when deciding whether to leave college early.
Football has been good to Geno Stone and vice versa.
But there is also a price to pay with playing football, and Stone wants to start earning money in order to help pay for that price.