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Hawkeyes in the NFL: Week 1

The NFL is back and several former Hawkeyes had big week one debuts.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos
Noah Fant took Monday Night Football by storm in week 1.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of the NFL season is in the books and there remain 31 Hawkeyes on NFL rosters (including practice squads). Each week throughout the NFL season we’ll be checking on the key performances from former Hawkeyes. Because there are so many former Hawks on NFL rosters, we’ll refrain running through how every player did, but certainly mention in the comments if there are select players you’d like to see an update for in the near future.

With that, let’s dive in to who did what in week 1 of the NFL season.

Game Ball

The performance of the week comes from former Hawkeye and current Denver Bronco Noah Fant who started year two in the NFL with a big night in the late game of Monday Night Football. He finished with 81 yards and a score on five catches in his 2020 debut.

Fant was a key target for Drew Lock early and often. Look for that to be a key theme throughout 2020 for the former Iowa standout.

Noted Notables

Adrian Clayborn, DE
Cleveland Browns

In his debut for the Cleveland Browns, former Buccaneer, Falcon and Patriot Adrian Clayborn made his presence felt off the edge. He totaled two solo tackles and added a sack of Lamar Jackson as the Browns fell to the Baltimore Ravens 38-6. Clayborn needs just three more sacks the rest of the way to match his total from a season ago.

Christian Kirksey, LB
Green Bay Packers

Like Clayborn, former Brown Christian Kirksey was making his debut in a new city this weekend. He made a nice impression with Packer fans as he totaled 12 tackles, including 6 solos, as Green Bay out-gunned the Minnesota Vikings 43-34.

Desmond King, S
Los Angeles Chargers

With star safety Derwin James sidelined for the season, the Chargers are searching for the right combination in the back half of their defense. That meant former Thorpe Award winner Desmond King got time at free safety in addition to his usual duties as a nickel corner. King made that count with 4 total tackles, including 3 solos. Expect King to continue being used in a variety of ways until the Chargers settle into a depth chart they like at safety.

Micah Hyde, S
Buffalo Bills

Fellow safety Micah Hyde had a fairly typical game for the 8th year pro as Buffalo defeated the New York Jets 27-17. Hyde finished with 4 total tackles, including 2 solos. The former Hawkeye will continue to be an integral part of a stingy Bills defense in his 4th year with the team.

Josey Jewell, LB
Denver Broncos

Former Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell was thrust into a much bigger role in week 1 of 2020 as star Von Miller hit the IR with an ankle injury the in the days leading up to Monday night’s showdown with the Tennessee Titans. As the starter at Right Inside Linebacker, Jewell took over defensive playcalling responsibilities and finished the game with eight tackles, including a big time tackle for loss of Derrick Henry.

Jewell also got called for decapitating a Titan receiver, also known as a facemask, in the third quarter. The town wasn’t big enough for the two of them, apparently.

TJ Hockenson, TE
Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson was all set to get a game ball in week one until he was upstaged by his fellow tight end Noah Fant on MNF. Hock caught all five of his Matthew Stafford targets for 56 yards, including this score from 4 yards out.

The Lions would ultimately lose to the Bears, but Hockenson clearly has developed some chemistry with his QB and is a premier target in the redzone after missing significant time last year for the Lions. Look for more big things from Hock the remainder of the year, barring more health issues.

Other Items

A couple of interesting items to follow in week one. Second round pick A.J. Epenesa was a healthy scratch for the Buffalo Bills. The Iowa standout had been listed as the third team left defensive end coming into the week and was left off the game day roster. The team indicated the decision was not related to disciplinary or health reasons.

Another item to follow is 49ers star tight end George Kittle. While Kittle finished week one with 44 yards on 4 catches, he did leave during the second quarter with a knee injury. It’s not believed to be serious and Kittle did return in the second half, though his productivity took a major dip after the injury. Keep an eye on his health going into week two.

On a higher note, cornerback Michael Ojemudia got the start in his first NFL game on Monday night. After being expected to serve primarily as a nickel corner, the Broncos lost starter A.J. Bouye to injury and thrust Ojemudia into a starting role. While OJ didn’t have a huge statistical night (just two tackles), he was matched up frequently man-to-man with Tennessee Titans star receiver A.J. Brown and Titans QB Ryan Tannehill didn’t test the former Hawkeye. When he did, Ojemudia came away with what would have been a pivotal interception in the third quarter if not for a penalty on a fellow Bronco. Here’s hoping OJ can earn a starting role even as Bouye returns for the Broncos.

And that’s it for week on in the NFL. Stay tuned each week as update you on all the action from former Hawkeyes.