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Bengals' Iloka, Jones: Free Agent Finds?

Teams are flipping out at the prospect of acquiring the services of the talented safety and receiver, but will the Bengals re-sign them?

The good folks at State Of The Texans on the Scout NFL Network wanted some of my thoughts about some unrestricted free agents that Houston might be interested in, namely safety George Iloka and wide receiver Marvin Jones.

Here is what I had to say:

If the Texans want to make a serious run at Bengals safety George Iloka, they should expect to be in line for his services. With a rare blend of size and athleticism, the 6-4, 225-pound Iloka rates as one of the NFL's top coverage safeties. He's one of the top three safeties on the free-agent market. Iloka turns 26 March 31, and he's already a three-year starter heading into his fifth NFL season. He has a history of catching on fast. In 2008, he was the youngest player in his college conference at age 17. He played in every game that season with five starts for a Boise State team that won its first 12 games. With the Bengals, he has started all but four games since the beginning of 2013 when he became a starter in just his second season after being a fifth-round draft choice in 2012.

Strong with good length, Iloka’s 34 1/2-inch arms were the longest among defensive backs at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. He was considered one of the best safety prospects in the 2012 draft, but was the 32nd pick in the fifth round, a veritable bargain for the Bengals. After seeing time in just seven games as a rookie, he emerged for Cincinnati in 2013, playing 96.7 percent of the snaps. He exhibited great range and speed, and began using his length as an advantage in coverage.

He broke out in 2014 when he totaled career-highs in tackles (74), passes defensed (10) and interceptions (3). He graded out as a top cover safety by Pro Football Focus, missing just 12 snaps. PFF said that among 59 safeties who played at least 50 percent of his team's snaps in 2014, Iloka was No. 1 in passer rating against him, allowing a QB rating of 18.4. He finished 2013 as PFF's No. 20 safety out of 86 qualifying players. He plays free safety, but he can play strong safety. He rarely gets beat over his head. He can play in the box, and he can stay with a tight end. His desire is unquestioned, but if there's a knock on his game it's that he doesn't force many turnovers. He has five interceptions, two forced fumbles and no sacks in 51 career games.

Injuries, primarily a balky groin, limited him to 12 starts in 2015. He finished with 47 tackles, four passes defensed and one interception. He was one of four Bengals secondary members grading out at 80 or better by PFF, nearly equaling the grade of Pro Bowl cornerback Adam Jones. Though he once struggled at times against the run, in man coverage and while attempting tackles in space, Iloka has made strides in those areas, making him one of the best all-around safeties who's yet to play in the Pro Bowl. PFF said Iloka's run defense grade over the last two seasons is +4.7, while his coverage grade is +7.2. He's so good with such a bright future, that it's expected that the Bengals will make a strong push to sign Iloka before he can test the market.

Due to a weak wide receiver market, the Bengals' Marvin Jones figures to be just as popular in free agency, if Cincinnati doesn't sign him first. Jones, however, said he owes it to himself to hit the open market. Furthermore, he said the Bengals won't be getting the home team discount. As a near-high-end No. 2 receiver in his prime, Jones could be targeting a new deal in the range of Golden Tate's five-year, $31 million salary in Detroit, which could put him out of the Bengals' range after they locked down A.J. Green with a four-year, $60 million deal.

There are more red flags with Jones than Iloka, but it's thought that the Bengals would prefer to keep him and let fellow unrestricted free agent receiver Mohamed Sanu bolt. Jones has missed 21 games in four years while averaging 58 receptions, 764 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two healthy seasons. He crawled into head coach Marvin Lewis' doghouse twice last offseason as the coach questioned Jones' desire to get back on the field after missing all of 2014 with foot and ankle injuries.

Jones returned in 2015 and looked to be back to full speed while starting a career-high 13 games and playing in all 16. He had just eight starts after his first three years in the league, but he finished 2015 with a career-high 65 catches for a career-best 816 yards (12.6 average) with four touchdowns. He caught 10 TD passes in 2013. But, after coming into the league in 2012, Jones has yet to reach 1,800 career receiving yards or 16 TDs because of injuries. He surpassed 100 career receptions just this past season.

If Jones were to inherit a No. 1 role, he could struggle against elite cornerbacks. As a No. 2 receiver, he can take advantage of those who aren't as gifted with his speed, athleticism and proficiency in the red zone. He has good hands, an extra gear, he can be elusive and he's just 25 years old. But, Jones has been living off Green's greatness his entire time in Cincinnati, and he has struggled when Green hasn't been on the field. The jury's out on how effective Jones would be working with a lesser talented No. 1 receiver.


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