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Hawks in the NFL: Making an Impact

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Many former Hawkeyes in week one played very well...

San Francisco 49ers v Detroit Lions Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Week one of the NFL season is now officially in the books and if you’re an Iowa Hawkeye fan, a lot of your former favorites really balled out with their respective NFL teams.

As always, keep in mind, this is not meant to be a full update for every former Hawkeye in the NFL. This is more catered to the former Hawkeyes who stood out, got significant playing time or had something interesting happen with them this past week.

Hope you enjoy and go Hawks!

JAMES DANIELS

Happy belated birthday to James Daniels and not a bad way to celebrate by going step for step with one of the best pass rushing defensive lineman of the past decade in Aaron Donald, all while stepping into a new role at right guard.

Despite scoring a low pass blocking grade and overall grade per Pro Football Focus. I decided to personally watch this game back because that grade for Daniels felt off to me while watching him live and upon rewatching, my suspicions held true, as I have zero idea how that grade was assigned to Daniels for this game.

Against the Rams, Daniels operated well on combo blocks and was an overall mover the run game and as a pass protector, Daniels also held up significantly well, even aside from the fact that it was Aaron Donald lining up across from him. Although PFF is great for tracking advanced statistics, alignments, etc., their grading process comes with many flaws and Daniels’ grade following week one certainly appears to have fallen victim to a flawed system.

RILEY REIFF

Former Iowa offensive tackle, Riley Reiff, was one of the biggest standout performers coming out of week one, as Reiff started and finished the game for the Cincinnati Bengals at right tackle without allowing a single quarterback pressure.

Reiff is unquestionably an NFL veteran at this point and this season, he’ll be tasked with protecting Joe Burrow, as this Bengals team appears to be in the thick of a rebuild.

DAVIYON NIXON

It was only a matter of time until former Hawkeye star defensive tackle, Daviyon Nixon, made his presence felt in the NFL. That said, I don’t think many people saw that coming in game number one of the 2021 NFL Season for the Carolina Panthers.

Despite a limited amount of snaps, Nixon flashed everything Hawkeye fans already knew that he could do: Get to the passer, be physical at the point of attack and burn offensive lineman with his athleticism. The NFL Draft process for Nixon wasn’t a kind one, as less than ideal athletic testing number painted an inaccurate picture of Nixon’s game. As a result, Nixon ended up dropping to the fifth-round and I have no doubt that, three years or so down the road, NFL teams will be kicking themselves for not calling in his name before day three of the NFL Draft.

NOAH FANT

Former Hawkeye tight end, Noah Fant, continues to make waves in the NFL, as it appears possible — barring injury — that he could lead the Denver Broncos in total targets and receptions this season following an injury to top wide receiver, Jerry Jeudy. In week one, Fant led the Broncos with eight targets and turned those opportunities into 62 yards on six catches.

In addition, Fant came out rockin’ a visor on Sunday and it looks awesome.

JOSEY JEWELL

It’s a contract year for “The Outlaw” Josey Jewell and from what it appears, Jewell might be well on his way to playing the best ball of his career this season.

On Sunday, Jewell recorded only four total tackles (all solo), which may you strike you as unremarkable. However, Jewell also recorded a forced fumble that the Denver Broncos ended up recovering and looked good in coverage and played well in terms of fitting running lanes as well. The 2021 season may prove to be a breakout one for the former Hawkeye star.

T.J. HOCKENSEN

As predicted, the T.J. Hockensen breakout season appears to be well on its way, as the former Iowa tight end posted eight receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets for the new look Detroit Lions offense on Sunday.

This doesn’t come as much of a shock as Hockensen had a productive season last year. However, don’t be surprised if Hockensen ascends into the ranks of the top five tight ends in the NFL by season’s end.

MATT NELSON

In an unexpected development, former Iowa defensive tackle, Matt Nelson, who has now converted into an offensive tackle in the NFL, got the starting nod this past weekend at right tackle for the Detroit Lions against the San Francisco 49ers.

Although Nelson didn’t look overly exceptional, he certainly had his moments and didn’t look out of place out there, which can be viewed as a job well done. Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to monitor whether or not he can build on this performance and really push the limits on his career in the NFL.

DESMOND KING

Former Hawkeye cornerback, Desmond King, has been continually undervalued as a player since leaving college and that continues to be the case, as King put on a nice showing for the Houston Texans in this past weekend’s blowout of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Who knows why King’s career in the NFL has evolved into somewhat of a journeyman existence thus far. That said, he continues to perform on the field and will continue to get paid by NFL teams for years to come.

CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY

Alongside King, former Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey debuted with the Houston Texans this past weekend and put on an absolute show in the process.

Kirksey was on the field a majority of the time for Texans and in those snaps, Kirksey accumulated six total tackles (five solo tackles) along with two tackles for loss, two pass breakups and one interception of rookie first overall pick Trevor Lawrence. Nice to see a couple of former Hawkeyes elevating an NFL defense down in Houston.

BEN NIEMANN & ANTHONY HITCHENS

Speaking of former college teammates turned NFL teammates, former Hawkeye linebackers Ben Niemann and Anthony Hitchens both received a significant amount of playing time for the Kansas City Chiefs, expectedly so, against the Cleveland Browns this past weekend, even combining for a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

As the season moves forward, Hitchens and Niemann will have to play well if the defense hopes to improve this season, as the Chiefs will be attempting to reach the Super Bowl for a third straight season.

BRYAN BULAGA

In week one, Bryan Bulaga battled through a few different ailments to start at right tackle for the San Die… excuse me, Los Angeles Chargers. *eye roll*

In addition, Bulaga was tasked with blocking some of the best defensive lineman the NFL has to offer in the form of Chase Young and Jonathan Allen. The day went about as you might predict given that context, as Bulaga was a better on multiple snaps by the two talented defenders.

That said, in anticipation of this week’s matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, Bulaga has been called out by a young defensive end named Tarell Basham, stating “I played against [Bulaga] last year, and I had fun with it … I just remember hitting the quarterback a lot that day.

Interestingly enough, in that game being referenced, Basham finished with zero sacks and only one hit on the quarterback, so here’s to hoping that Bulaga plays this Sunday and absolutely buries this guy into the turf several times.

MICAH HYDE

At this point in his NFL career, Buffalo Bills safety and former Iowa Hawkeye, Micah Hyde, is a solidified star and he nothing to dismay Bills fans of that this weekend, as he excelled in pass coverage from start to finish.

Moving forward this season, Hyde will play a pivotal role on this defense and there’s no reason to expect that he won’t be a Pro-Bowler and potential All-Pro candidate once again.

AMANI HOOKER

The Tennessee Titans in week one … let’s just say … didn’t play up to expectations after dropping to the Arizona Cardinals 38-13. That said, one of the lone bright spots on the Titans defense was former Hawkeye safety, Amani Hooker, who was lined up all around the field for a good portion of the contest.

That said, Hooker ended leaving the game early with a foot injury and as of yesterday has been added to the Titans injured reserved for the time being.

BRANDON SCHERFF

There were times in week one where former number five overall pick and former Hawkeye, Brandon Scherff, struggled a bit as a run blocker while also accumulating a couple of penalties. That said, Scherff overall played well and moving forward, there’s no reason not to expect Scherff to be in the Pro Bowl conversation once again by season’s end.

TRISTAN WIRFS

Although Tristan Wirfs had his hands full in week one on Thursday Night Football up against the Dallas Cowboys and superstar defensive end, Demarcus Lawrence, Wirfs was still able to play admirably for a second year player. That said, at this point in his career, most of the NFL already expects Wirfs to be akin to Superman at his right tackle position due to his phenomenal play last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which he only allowed one sack in nearly 800 pass-blocking reps. Insane.

Coming into this game, Wirfs had been riding a 15-game streak of not allowing a sack and now, you can make that a 16-game streak. As the Buccaneers push for another Super Bowl Championship this season, expect Wirfs to be one of the players on the roster leading the charge.

GEORGE KITTLE

With former Iowa tight end, George Kittle, you could make a five minute highlight reel entirely centered around his antics and physicality in any given week since he’s been in the NFL. Undeniably one of the bigger fan favorite personalities around the league, Kittle doubles as a great, productive football player with week one being no exception, as he finished with four catches for 78 yards on five targets in addition to multiple pancake blocks, as the San Francisco 49ers put up 41 points against the Detroit Lions.