Sports Illustrated's All-Emerge Team is theoretically a proposed list of players that are expected to have breakout seasons in 2014. Three Bengals were mentioned, two on defense and one on offense. This suggests that while the Bengals have their celebrity players like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict and even Giovani Bernard, there's another group of players that are climbing the ladder of fame with prospects that it will propel Cincinnati to even greater heights.
The first player mentioned is linebacker Vincent Rey:
The four-year backup shined as an everydown player when filling in for an injured Rey Maualuga last November. It was surprising the Bengals did not insert him as their fulltime nickel ‘backer down the stretch (he split some nickel snaps with Maualuga). Rey moves with speed and fluidity as an open space pass defender, blitzes with ferocity and knows how to employ these attributes against the run. His numbers even reflect it: four sacks, two interceptions, five pass deflections, one forced fumble and 57 tackles. Not bad for a second-string role player. Restricted free agents are rarely signed by new teams because their old team is then entitled to a draft pick from that new team. For Rey, it will likely be a mid-rounder, which would be worthwhile for a club in need of a good all-around inside ‘backer.
More impressively is that most of those numbers came during Rey's most significant playing time against the Baltimore Ravens, generating three sacks and an interception -- a first-time ever for any Bengals player in franchise history. Plus Andy Benoit's point is spot-on... why didn't Vincent Rey get more playing time?
The second was safety George Iloka, a former '12 fifth-round draft pick that became a full-time starter in 2013.
After coming on slowly as a fifth-round rookie, Iloka captured a starting job late in 2013 thanks largely to his comfort in centerfield. Reggie Nelson might be the titular free safety, but with his proclivity for edge blitzing—which he did in Mike Zimmer’s scheme and, presumably, will continue to do under linebackers coach turned coordinator Paul Guenther—whoever is at strong safety for the Bengals must be able to cover downfield and in space. Iloka can. He has exceptional range for a 6-4, 225-pounder, and he’s developing the route recognition to convert that to playmaking opportunities. And, of course, with his size, Iloka is a sturdy tackler, not just in the box but also the open field.
Iloka was the leading tackler in the secondary, securing 67 stops by also forcing two fumbles, eight passes defensed and a fumble recovery. During the regular season meeting against the San Diego Chargers, Iloka recovered an Antonio Gates fumble on San Diego's opening possession and added a forced fumble in the fourth quarter.
SI's 2014 offensive All-Emerge team includes an obvious selection for the Bengals. Marvin Jones.
Maybe Jones doesn’t qualify as an "emerger" after catching 51 balls and 10 touchdowns last season. But if he continues the torrid pace of development that he’s shown since entering the league as an unripe fifth-round pick in 2012, he’ll have at least 70 catches and 1,000 yards in 2014. If Jones played with anyone other than A.J. Green, he’d be the most acrobatic downfield receiver on his team. Working with one of the league’s best passing game position coaches, James Urban, Jones should continue to improve his route running and become a more dynamic threat anywhere on the field. And, thanks to Green, he’ll mostly face single coverage.
Notice one trend?
Of those three Bengals that were mentioned, two were former fifth-round selections and one was an undrafted free agent. Keep that in mind when discussing among yourselves Cincinnati's ability to draft beyond the first round.