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Hawks in the NFL: The A.J. Epenesa Show

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The league has now been introduced to A.J. Epenesa...

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Week two 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 and some had weeks they’d like to forget, which is bound to happen over the course of a long NFL season.

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

Hope you enjoy and go Hawks!

A.J. EPENESA

There wasn’t a single former Hawkeye in the league who had a better game than A.J. Epenesa did in week two for the Buffalo Bills.

Lining up on both ends of the line of scrimmage, Epenesa tore up the Miami Dolphins offensive line and had a total of nine pressures, which accounts for the most by any player in the NFL so far this season and tied for the second most by a single player over the past two seasons.

There were questions about what Epenesa’s NFL role would be coming out of college, as a surprisingly lack luster combine led to concerns about him potentially being a “tweener” type defensive end relative to NFL standards. That said, Epenesa has shut down those concerns and appears set to emerge as one of the next bright stars in the league sooner rather than later.

MICAH HYDE

Alongside Epenesa, former Hawkeye safety, Micah Hyde, has continued to solidify himself as one of the NFL’s best players for yet another year.

Whether it’s in the passing game as a cover player, fitting the run on outside run calls or just being an overall playmaker from a blitzing perspective, Hyde continues to be productive and make plays for this Bills defense and this past weekend was no exception, as the Bills defense blanked the Dolphins offense in a 35-0 rout.

BRANDON SCHERFF

Surprisingly in week one, former Hawkeye and now current Washington Football Team right guard, Brandon Scherff, got off to a bit of a slow start against the San Die… Los Angeles Chargers. However, in week two, Scherff played up to the level that the rest of the NFL expects to see out of the former All-Pro standout, as Washington won a close, come-from-behind game on Thursday Night Football against the New York Giants.

GENO STONE

Former Hawkeye safety, Geno Stone, has had an interesting journey thus far in his NFL career, as he declared early for the NFL Draft only to end up falling to the seventh round. From there, Stone was then released by the Ravens despite having been drafted by them only months prior and ended up being claimed by the Houston Texans. It only got wackier for Stone after he was then cut by the Texans only to then re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens … think the Ravens front office regretted their initial decision?

Well, after a promising showing this preseason, Stone has quickly emerged as a player that Ravens fans and coaches are excited about and in week two, Stone may have officially take the reigns as a starter on the Ravens defense following the benching of Brandon Stephens.

Moving forward, Stone’s situation will be an interesting one to monitor. However, it appears as though he may have played his way into an opportunity to become a starter on one of the NFL’s most fiercest defenses.

ANTHONY HITCHENS & BEN NIEMANN

At this point, it’s no secret that the tandem at linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs features two former Hawkeyes in the form of Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann. That said, the 2021 season hasn’t started how either player would have hoped, as they’ve both underperformed relative to their personal expectations.

It’s only been two weeks and the NFL season lasts 18 weeks and probably a bit more if you’re on the Chiefs, so here’s to hoping they’re able to turn it around so that we can get more awesome moments when the TV broadcast is going through the defensive starting lineup.

RILEY REIFF

It’s never fun to talk about former Hawkeyes having a bad week and with Riley Reiff, that was the case in week two’s matchup with the Chicago Bears.

Coming off of an impressive showing in week one at right tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, Reiff was tasked with one of the most difficult assignments in today’s NFL — blocking Khalil Mack. Unfortunately for Reiff, that task didn’t go as he would’ve liked and as a result, the Bengals’ offense sputtered and failed to do much in terms of moving the ball down the field.

It’s only one game and, once again, the season is longer than ever this year. I’m positive Reiff will be able to turn it around relatively fast in the next few games.

NOAH FANT

The Noah Fant breakout season continues to roll along, as the third-year standout tight end aided the Denver Broncos in week two with 33 yards on four catches, which also included a touchdown.

Fant continues to show why he was such a highly regarded player coming out of Iowa and the Tight End University brand continues to grow even stronger with every passing week.

JOSEY JEWELL

Following one of the best performances of “The Outlaw” Josey Jewell’s NFL career in week one, it appeared as though Jewell was on his way to yet another incredible outing this past Sunday as, once again, Jewell was flying to the ball from a number of different directions.

That said, midway through the contest, Jewell suffered a torn pec, which has been announced will be season-ending. This is heartbreaking news for Jewell and for us as fans, as this is a contract year for the now NFL veteran and it appeared as though he was poised for a serious breakout campaign in 2021.

We wish Jewell all the best with his recovery and hopefully he comes out of this better than ever!

CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY

If there’s one thing we’ve come to know about Christian Kirksey’s NFL journey is that he’s undoubtedly one of the NFL’s most positive leaders and at age 29, he just continues to be an absolute playmaker no matter which team he’s suiting up for.

In week two, Kirksey continued to build on his impressive week one, as he was able to record six total (four solo) tackles and one tackle for loss in addition to a pivotal fumble recovery. The Texans did go on to lose in comeback fashion against a talented Cleveland Browns teams, which is so weird to say out loud. However, Kirksey’s performance served as one of the bight spot for the Houston Texans and you have to imagine Kirksey will only continue to perform as the season pushes forward.

CARL DAVIS

Is there an any better feel good story as it pertains to former Hawkeyes in the league than Carl Davis’ story this season?

Prior to signing with the New England Patriots this offseason, Davis’ status as an NFL journeyman appeared as though it may have been coming to an unfortunate end. That said, following an impressive showing in the preseason, Davis remarkably was able to play himself on to the Patriots 53-man roster and in week two, Davis left his impact on the game, as he recorded a sack that ended up leading to a missed field goal and played well in his limited reps against the run.

Davis has emerged a player who Patriots fans are actively rooting for and that same sentiment can be felt over here as well.

TRISTAN WIRFS

Until further notice, continue to expect weekly updates on former offensive tackle, Tristan Wirfs, being an absolute beast and a future NFL All-Pro, because what else can you really say about his play since stepping into the league.

Coming into week two, Wirfs had been riding a 16-game streak of not allowing a sack and now, you can make that a 17-game streak. At this point, the streak may never end. *knocks on wood*

GEORGE KITTLE

Despite the lack of offensive production in terms of receiving yards or touchdowns, former Hawkeye tight end, George Kittle, continues to show his value in the run game as a blocker and at this point … you could make a highlight reel of all of the pancakes Kittle dishes out on a weekly basis.

In addition, Kittle also doubles as an amazing leader and teammate. Without question one of the more likable and talented players in the NFL today.

MATT NELSON

Through the first two weeks of the season, it wouldn’t be accurate to label the conversion of former Hawkeye, Matt Nelson, from defensive tackle in college to NFL offensive tackle a success. That said, it also wouldn’t be accurate to label the conversion as a failure either.

Sure, Nelson has struggled in moments during the first two weeks — against very good players might I add — but overall, given the circumstances of being thrust into the starting lineup, he also hasn’t been awful in my opinion. There are worse offensive tackles starting in the league this season and hopefully the Lions continue to stick by Nelson as he attempts to grow into a better player at his new position.

T.J. HOCKENSEN

What else can you say about former tight end T.J. Hockensen other than “he has arrived.”

In week one, Hockensen put up gaudy numbers for the Detroit Lions’ offense in a nail-biting finish against the San Francisco 49ers and in week two, Hockensen finished with eight catches on nine targets while tallying 66 yards receiving and a touchdown.

Hockensen has clearly emerged as the best weapon in this Lions offense and from the looks of it, he’s seemingly aged 10 years in only two seasons as a result.