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Hawkeyes in the NFL: Week 12 Recap

Tristan Wirfs: good at football.

NFL: NOV 08 Saints at Buccaneers
Tristan Wirfs is on the verge of being a household name. Outside the state of Iowa.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a bit of a slow week in week 10 of the NFL, the Hawkeyes were back in a big way for week 11. Despite several former Iowa players being on a bye, we had some of the best performances of the season, as well as a career day for one former Hawk.

Here’s our weekly dive into how former Hawkeyes performed in week 11 of the NFL.

Game Ball

A few weeks ago, we handed out a game ball to Tristan Wirfs because lineman game balls typically don’t come frequently. Alas, Tristan Wirfs is not typical. We already knew he was a freak athlete from his time at Iowa, but he continues to grow and develop in his first season in the NFL and is garnering some serious national praise.

The Tamp Bay Buccaneers rookie right tackle remains the highest graded rookie tackle in the league and with each passing week, his highlight reel grows in length. This week, the big man continued to turn head by showing off some wily veteran moves.

We’ll see if Wirfs can in fact take home the prestigious rookie of the year award with some high end performances from skill players, but regardless of how that shakes out, the NFL community is clearly taking note that Tristan Wirfs is the best tackle in this year’s class.

Noted Notables

A.J. Epenesa, DE
Buffalo Bills

Former Iowa star AJ Epenesa saw a nice bump in playing time this week with Trent Murphy out. Epenesa was in on nearly 40% of snaps and his production on the field showed it. Epenesa finished with a pair of solo tackles, including a tackle for loss, and got a hit in on Chargers QB Justin Herbert. On the season, Epenesa now has 8 total tackles, including 5 solos, two stuffs and a tackle for loss.

Amani Hooker, S
Tennessee Titans

Tennessee safety Amani Hooker saw a bit of dropoff in playing time this week to a more normalized level. He was in on 36% of defensive snaps for the Titans, finishing with no tackles but a pass defended. On the season, Hooker has 30 total tackles, 5 passes defended and 3 interceptions.

Anthony Hitchens, LB
Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens had a very nice performance in the team’s win over Tampa Bay this week. Hitchens finished with a team-high 7 tackles, including 3 solos, as well as a tackle for loss and two QB hits. On the season, Hitchens now has 66 total tackles, including 37 solos, a pass defended and two stuffs.

Anthony Nelson, DE
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While Tristan Wirfs is getting all the attention in Tampa, defensive end Anthony Nelson continues to carve out a role. Nelson earned playing time on 35% of defensive snaps last week. He didn’t finish with any tackles, but did come away with a hit on Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes in a 27-24 loss. On the season Nelson has 12 total tackles, including 8 solos, and a pair of stuffs.

Ben Niemann, LB
Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann didn’t record any stats in the win over Tampa Bay. He did, however play on 36% of defensive snaps, in line with his season-long trends. On the year, Niemann has 26 total tackles, including 16 solos, a sack and two fumble recoveries.

Christian Kirksey, LB
Green Bay Packers

Packers linebacker Christian Kirksey did a little bit of everything in Green Bay’s 41-25 win over the Chicago Bears on Monday night. Kirksey racked up 5 total tackles, including two solos, with half a tackle for loss and a pass defended while again playing every defensive snap. Despite missing five games on the year, Kirksey now has 50 total tackles, including 30 solos, a pass defended and an interception.

Desmond King, DB
Tennessee Titans

Titans corner Desmond King continues to be an integral part of the Tennessee secondary since coming over from LA. King played on 96% of defensive snaps this week in a 45-26 win over the Indianapolis Colts. He finished with three total tackles, including a pair of solos. On the season, King now has 38 total tackles, including 29 solos, 1 sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Jaleel Johnson, DT
Minnesota Vikings

On the season, Johnson now has 33 tackles, including 17 solos, 1.5 sacks and a stuff.

Josey Jewell, LB
Denver Broncos

Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell had another Josey Jewell week. He played on 86% of defensive snaps for a Denver team that was forced to play one-handed with no QBs eligible this week. Jewell finished with 7 total tackles, including 4 solos in a 31-3 loss to New Orleans. On the season, Jewell is second on the team with 78 total tackles, including 26 solos, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, a stuff and a pass defended.

Josh Jackson, CB
Green Bay Packers

Packers corner Josh Jackson saw zero action for the second straight week since Green Bay got starter Kevin King back. On the season, Jackson has 25 total tackles, including 21 solos, one stuff and two passes defended.

Micah Hyde, S
Buffalo Bills

Buffalo safety Micah Hyde remains a stallwart in the back end. He saw his playing time take a drop this week from 100% of snaps to 99%. Barring injury, that’s about what you’ll see every week. This week, Hyde finished with 4 solo tackles and a pass defended. That’s his 4th pass defended on the year. Hyde also has 52 total tackles, including 37 solos, and a stuff.

Michael Ojemudia, CB
Denver Broncos

Denver corner Michael Ojemudia remains in a smaller role for the Broncos since the return of AJ Bouye and Bryce Callahan. OJ played 39% of snaps this week, up a bit from the prior week, but still well below where he was when the team was dealing with injuries. Ojemudia still managed three solo tackles and a pass defended in the more limited work. On the season, he has 33 total tackles, including 25 solos, 5 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and one stuff.

Noah Fant, TE
Denver Broncos

Fellow Bronco Noah Fant fell the real pain this week. With Denver’s three QBs all in the COVID-19 contact tracing protocols, the Broncos were forced to activate practice squad WR Kendall Hinton, who played QB in college more than two years ago, to step into his first action as a QB. The results were predictable. Hinton completed just one pass for 13 yards on the day. Fant, however, was the lone beneficiary with no other Broncos making a catch. On the season, Fant now has 435 receiving yards (third on the team) and a pair of touchdowns on a team-high 40 catches.

T.J. Hockenson, TE
Detroit Lions

The situation is not nearly as dire in Detroit, but the Lions are still dealing with a ligament tear for QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford continues to play through the injury, but the offense has been in some trouble of late and that continued in a 41-25 loss to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving day. That hasn’t seemed to bother TE TJ Hockenson, who led the team with 89 yards on 5 catches this week. That capped off what was quite the month of consistency for the former Hawkeye.

On the season, Hockenson leads the Lions with 45 receptions for a team-high 5 TDs and 530 receiving yards. That ranks third among all tight ends in both yards and touchdowns. Hockenson has worked his way into a legitimate Pro Bowl contender.

Other Items

In not great news, we noted last week that there were a slew of players in the Ravens/Titans matchup while also pointing out the COVID-19 outbreak in Baltimore. If you’r an NFL fan, you no doubt know the Ravens are having major issues on that front with their game against Pittsburgh moved to Wednesday night. On Tuesday, former Hawkeyes Geno Stone, who has been on the active roster of late, tested positive for COVID-19.

We’ll keep an eye on Kristian Welch, the only other former Hawkeye in Baltimore, as the week progresses.

And that’s it for this week in the NFL. We’ll be back to recap all the action next week.