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How Geno Stone Is Making Interceptions a Weekly Thing

S Geno Stone
S Geno Stone

There were 218 players, including 19 safeties, picked before Geno Stone in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Now it's Stone who leads the NFL in picks.

Nobody expected Stone to have six interceptions heading into Sunday's game against the Browns. How impressive is Stone's interception total? Twelve NFL teams don't have six interceptions yet.

The fourth-year Ravens safety has spent a lifetime exceeding expectations. His streak of four straight games with an interception is the second longest in franchise history, trailing only Eric Turner's five-game streak in 1996. Stone has a chance to equal or surpass Hall of Famer Ed Reed's franchise record of nine interceptions in one season, which Reed accomplished twice (2004, 2008).

It just so happens that Stone wore a Reed hoodie, paying homage to the all-time great ballhawk, in the locker room after Sunday's game.

Stone has been one of the Ravens' feel-good stories this season, a playmaker who's capitalized on his opportunity to ball out. It's been a long journey for him. The New Castle, Pa. native was overlooked by every school in the Big 10 before Iowa offered him a late scholarship. Then, despite being a two-year starter for the Hawkeyes with six career interceptions, Stone almost went undrafted.

Before the seventh and final round of the 2020 draft, Stone couldn't hide his disappointment as he waited for his phone to ring with family and friends gathered at his house.

"I went outside for a while, I wanted to be by myself," Stone said. "I didn't understand what was happening. I didn't expect to still be on the board that late. I was kind of down on myself, but I had great friends and family who lifted my spirits. But I've had a chip on my shoulder, really since high school. I've had to earn everything."

With Marcus Williams missing six games this season, Stone has seized the opportunity by becoming the NFL's most successful takeaway artist.

Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson is the Ravens' radio analyst and has seen every game Stone has played this season. Woodson had 71 career interceptions, including five seasons with six or more. In Stone, he sees a player who shares his thirst for takeaways.

"I think the biggest thing is, he's putting his foot in the ground and attacking the football," Woodson said. "A couple of weeks ago, he got one on the sideline and caught the ball right in front of Brandon Stephens, his own teammate. Geno just went and got the ball. He didn't wait for it. That's a mindset. Sometimes you've got to be aggressive and just go get it, even if you've got to cut in front of one of your own teammates.

"As a D-back, you can get the bear, or the bear can get you. He's getting the bear. He's playing lights out football. He's tackling extremely well in open space. He's doing everything consistently. He's doing it at a high level against the best in the world, playing at an All-Pro level, and he wasn't even a starter at the beginning of the year? Great story."

Stone said he learned about preparation and being professional from some of the savvy defensive backs he has played with during his time with the Ravens, including Williams, Chuck Clark, and Anthony Levine. As a rookie, Stone had to learn that even after he made the 53-man roster, it didn't guarantee that he'd be active on Sunday. The first time he was told he was inactive for a game, Stone said he was baffled.

He was even more shook when the Ravens cut him in October of his rookie season. He was brought back on the practice squad, but then released again late in the year. The Houston Texans claimed him off waivers and he finished the year there. But when he was a free agent after that year, he wanted to come back to Baltimore and did so on a one-year deal. Stone often says he got the full NFL business experience in his first year.  He signed another one-year deal in March to spend a fourth season with the Ravens.

Stone played every defensive snap in five games last season, stepping in as a starter after Williams fractured his wrist. However, Stone only had one NFL interception before this season, so what has clicked after Stone signed a one-year deal this offseason to remain in Baltimore?

He believes it's confidence, preparation, and letting his sure hands and athleticism take over.

"I actually think playing baseball growing up helped me a lot," Stone said. "I played centerfield, that was my favorite sport. It's just me reacting to the ball coming out of the quarterback's release from his hand, just like I used to read the ball off the bat. It just seems like a natural instinct."

Stone is building quite a trophy case at home as he keeps collecting game balls from Head Coach John Harbaugh, along with footballs that he's intercepted. According to his mother, none of his success has changed him.

"Geno never shows much excitement, he's just super laid back, mellow," Erin Stone said. "I'm that mom who's in the stands screaming and running all around. But Geno's always focused, never gloats. When he puts his mind to something, it's 100% focus. That's where he is, but I'm so happy for him."

Williams (hamstring) has practiced all week and could return to action Sunday, which raises the question of how much Stone's role will change moving forward. Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald called it "a great problem to have" when Williams, Kyle Hamilton and Stone are all healthy, and Macdonald often uses packages that feature three safeties.

Stone isn't stressing over his role moving forward.

"Marcus is a playmaker, he's shown it since he stepped in the league," Stone said. "I'm not worried about it. I know whenever I get out there, I'm going to make the most of my opportunity. Things aren't given to you in this league. You have to earn them."

Stone's teammates are happy to see him in the spotlight, knowing the work he's put in to achieve success. Hamilton says Stone is simply getting what he's always deserved, and that recent run of interceptions should never be taken for granted.

"Picks are a hard thing to come by in this league," Hamilton said. "Sacks, touchdowns, tackles for loss, are all things that happen pretty often. But it's hard to pick off quarterbacks in this league and it's pretty dope to see him doing it.

"He shouldn't worry that seventh-round pick stuff. The draft is like being recruited out of high school. Whether you're a five-star or a three-star, you've got to prove it on the field. Geno's going to get paid after that season. Having some more money in his pocket should make him feel better about being a seventh-round pick."

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