George Iloka has been one of the better-kept secrets in the NFL. He is a quality safety in the NFL, and has done a very good job at limiting big plays against the Bengals’ defense over his career.
In some ways though, Iloka is a throwback player who often looks to separate the receiver from the ball by laying a huge hit on them. That has been fine up until this offseason where the NFL has gotten way more strict about their rules on big hits.
It used to be only helmet-to-helmet hits were flagged, but now any player using the crown of their helmet to hit another player will be flagged and possibly punished.
That is a drastic change that really has an impact on Iloka’s style of play. However, it seems Iloka and new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have a plan.
Weight: 225 pounds
College: Boise State
Hometown: Houston, TX
Experience: Seventh-Year Player
Iloka is entering the third season of his five-year deal worth $30 million. He has a $6.2 million cap hit and the team would save $4.6 million if they decided to part ways with their safety. He is set to make $5.6 million this season.
Iloka is set to hit free agency again following the 2020 season.
Iloka was the 167th overall pick in the 2012 draft, and he became a starting safety in 2013. Before he was recognized for his play, he was most famous for breaking his hand during training camp by punching a teammate’s helmet during a fight.
He quickly put that behind him though and became the perfect compliment to Reggie Nelson at safety. Iloka’s ability to roam the deep part of the field allowed Nelson to use his nose for the football and create plenty of turnovers underneath.
Iloka’s impact on this team is harder to track with the box score. Sure, you can see he is one of the leading tacklers on the squad, but really it is his presence that deters opposing quarterbacks from going deep.
Iloka does a nice job at playing the center field and reading the quarterback's eyes. He rarely makes a mistake that results in a game-changing play. That could be in jeopardy with the recent rule changes though, as Iloka will have to start playing the ball more than trying to lay the lumber on a receiver.
Iloka knows he has to change his ways, and the Bengals’ new defensive coordinator is helping drill that in his head.
“It’s been good. He has really made me feel comfortable, and other guys comfortable in terms of trying to go out there and make more plays,” Iloka told NFL.com. “I know it has just been OTAs and it has just been minicamp, but he has really emphasized “take your chances now,” “see what you can get away with,” [and] “see who you are as a player.
“I felt like this OTA and minicamp were my most productive in terms of getting near the ball and getting around the ball, and I just need to take that into training camp and continue to progress, because the key is for most teams to make the playoffs and make a long run is to win the turnover battle. Last year as a secondary of the defense we didn’t do as good of a job as we would’ve liked to. It starts with me, it starts with the secondary, and I take ownership of that.”
This is a very necessary change. It helps Iloka stay out of trouble with the refs, and it could produce a more productive football team altogether. Iloka’s career high is three interceptions during a season. He has accomplished that twice. There is no question he could very well pass that next season now that he is making it a point to play the ball.
If he doesn’t correct this, though, he should expect to be in regular contact with the league office.
Iloka’s spot on this roster is safe. Although the Bengals drafting Jessie Bates III in the second round is a clear message to the veteran safety. Although, we should be prepared to see Bates, Iloka and Shawn Williams all on the field at the same time pretty often next season as the league is moving more and more towards three safety sets.
It still appears that Iloka’s replacement is currently on the roster.
Roster Odds: 100 percent