Believe it or not, George Iloka is now the second-longest tenured starter among the Bengals’ secondary. The 26-year-old, a fifth-round pick in 2012, is on the cusp of becoming an elite player and will be tasked with helping first-year starting safety Shawn Williams learn the ropes quickly enough to make an impact on top of playing his own game, doing his best to stuff the run, force turnovers and prevent deep passes.
Iloka, entering his fifth season and fresh off a big-money extension, is one of the most consistent players in the NFL when it comes to breaking up deep passes, and he can lay the wood in a major way. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound safety is a physical specimen who excels in deep coverage and can effectively cover opposing tight ends. It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Paul Guenther utilizes Iloka, a Swiss Army Knife on the defense, in the Bengals’ scheme, as the safety is a versatile playmaker.
As Andrew Whitworth handed the reigns to Andy Dalton as the offensive leader in 2015, I expect Adam Jones to do the same with Iloka in 2016. The safety has a ton of experience for such a young player, he’ll be the leader of the back end for at least the next five years, and his ceiling as a player is still sky-high.
Weight: 225 pounds
College: Boise State
Hometown: Houston, TX
Iloka currently ranks 15th in terms of average salary per year among all safeties, but he ranks 34th in terms of guaranteed money. That’s a huge bargain for the Bengals, signing a potential top-10 safety to what will be a very team-friendly deal barring a massive dropoff in Iloka’s production. And even still, less than 17 percent of the safety’s contract is guaranteed, which is a bargain.
As mentioned, Iloka is now the second-longest tenured member of Cincinnati’s secondary. With 44 career starts, Iloka is far more experienced than any member of the Bengals secondary outside of Adam Jones, with Dre Kirkpatrick (20 career starts) the next-most experienced player behind the safety. With that experience comes responsibility. Iloka will start alongside Williams, who only has four career starts to his name.
Paul Guenther runs a ton of Cover 2 defense, which allows his corners to be aggressive — but this only works if Iloka and Williams can prevent opponents from completing deep passes. As we saw in the Bengals’ second preseason game, preventing the deep ball is easier said than done, as Williams allowed former teammate Marvin Jones to haul in a virtually uncontested pass for a huge gain. If Iloka can create turnovers and cover ground, he’ll give the boundary corners more opportunities to be aggressive and pick off passes. And if Iloka can use his massive frame to intercept a few passes of his own, he may be on his way to his first-ever Pro Bowl.