George Iloka read the reports — including Pro Football Weekly’s — that rated him the third-best safety in the draft.
He was happy with his Combine performance, which was one of the best among the safeties, and felt like he could hear his name early on Friday, certainly by the end of the day when Round Three wrapped up.
There was no call.
“I was definitely disappointed,” Iloka said from his home in Texas. “I kept watching in disbelief.”
Instead, Iloka watched several names roll off the board after the top-two consensus safeties, Mark Barron and Harrison Smith, were picked in Round One.
First, Tavon Wilson (who?) in Round Two to the Patriots. Then LSU’s Brandon Taylor and Oregon State’s Brandon Hardin, six picks apart, in the middle of Round Three. That was it for Thursday. On Friday, four more went, and wait until you hear where they were from: Christian Thompson, South Carolina State (!); Jerron McMillian, Maine (!!), Matt Johnson, Eastern Washington (!!!); and Corey White, Samford (!!!!).
Uh, yes, that’s Samford, home of the fighting Bulldogs in Birmingham, Ala.
“It stung a little bit, seeing names I had not heard of go before me,” Iloka said.
God bless the FCS, but Iloka started 45 games at Boise State, which, if you have not been tuning in, was the national party crasher in recent years, with a 49-3 mark the past four seasons. Iloka played in all of those and did pretty well, too. He totaled 232 tackles and seven interceptions and has rare size for the position at 6-foot-3 and 225.
The Bengals clearly saw something in him. They took him in Round Five, ending the slide, and adding to their cadre of tall safeties with Taylor Mays (6-3), Robert Sands (6-4) and Jeromy Miles (6-2). Iloka feels he should have gone higher, but he’s happy he went to Cincinnati to play for Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer, two excellent defensive coaches.
Iloka’s first reaction, he said: relief. Happiness soon followed. It sunk in quickly that he landed on a good unit.
“They had a good defense last year,” Iloka said, having seen a few of their games. “Mike Zimmer is an excellent defensive coach. He plays aggressive. I like his schemes, and I feel like I can add something.
“I am going to show them they got me for a reason. A good reason.”
The Bengals had a defensive flavor to their draft, taking CB Dre Kirkpatrick in Round One, DTs Devin Still (Round Two) and Brandon Thompson (Round Three) and Iowa CB Shaun Prater 11 picks ahead of Iloka. The Bengals ranked seventh in yards allowed and ninth in both points and passing yards allowed. These picks should make them better.
“The plan is to go in there and get acclimated as quickly as possible,” Iloka said. “I am fighting for a spot now. I need to work even harder.”
Iloka said he’s never had it easy, getting to where he’s at now. Not in high school, and not in college. He believes that, in the end, everything happened as it should.
“Things worked out,” Iloka said. “It’s a humbling beginning, but I was meant to be a Bengal. I am blessed.”