When NFL free agency opens next week, Bengals safety George Iloka and wide receiver Marvin Jones will be at or near the top of best available players at their respective positions.
It also helps that both guys are coming off their rookie contracts and should, in theory, be hitting the prime years of their careers. Iloka has quietly been one of the NFL's better safeties over the past two years, racking up 121 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass defenses in 28 games since 2014.
With Kansas City's Eric Berry being franchise tagged, Iloka is now the No. 1 safety hitting the market in terms of level of play and how young he is (25 years old). That puts him ahead of guys like fellow Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson (32-years-old) and San Diego's Eric Weddle (31-years-old).
As for Jones, he's become an explosive pass-catcher and exactly what you want in your No. 2 receiver. His last two full seasons have seen Jones average 58 grabs, 764 yards and seven scores. Though injuries have cost him 22 games over his career (including the playoffs), Jones is viewed as one of, if not the top receiver hitting free agency this year.
Iloka's and Jones' success will lead to some team offering them huge contracts, and those contracts could very well exceed what they're actually worth. That's exactly what Pro Football Focus anticipates happening with both Iloka and Jones, who rank among PFF's top six free agents about to get overpaid.
3. Marvin Jones, WR, Bengals
Jones (79.0) figures to be the beneficiary of an extremely weak free agent receiver class. After Alshon Jeffrey got tagged, Jones was the only young, productive receiver left on the market. Jones has been a solid No. 2 option to A.J. Green over his career, but outside of the 2013 season where he made a handful of circus catches, there is little reason to think Jones can be a No. 1 target. With a weak receiver draft class—and even weaker free-agent crop—don’t be surprised if someone gives Jones No. 1-receiver money, though.
5. George Iloka, S, Bengals
The importance of age in free agency cannot be overstated. For most positions, an average player at 26 (in June) will get a more lucrative deal than a slightly above-average player at 32. Iloka (82.6) has consistently been out-graded by fellow Bengals safety Reggie Nelson over the course of his career, but at 26 years old, Iloka is the one who figures to be paid like a top-10 safety. Obviously teams will bank on further development from the young safety, but he’s yet to grade out as a top-10 player at his position in any season of his career.
Even if Jones and Iloka are among the Bengals' top priorities, they'll probably test the open market and see how much teams are willing to throw their way. Then the question will be whether either are willing to take a little less money to come back to Cincinnati, or, if the Bengals will match or exceed the best deal they're each offered.