Epenesa records first sack, Hockenson sets franchise record in week three of NFL season

Former Hawkeye also Amani Hooker sealed a victory for the Tennessee Titans in his hometown of Minneapolis.



Defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa of Iowa runs a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on February 29, 2020.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Amani Hooker only played 14 snaps on Sunday for the Tennessee Titans. He made the final one count.

The Titans led the Minnesota Vikings 31-30 with 1:09 remaining in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth-and-24 from his own 26-yard line, Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins chucked up a desperation heave to the four receivers he had streaking down the field.

The former Hawkeye safety came up with the ball instead, securing a game-sealing interception in his hometown of Minneapolis to move the Titans to 3-0 on the season.

The pick was Hooker’s first of his two-year NFL career.

As a Hawkeye from 2016-18, Hooker was a fixture in the secondary. In his junior season, Hooker recorded 65 tackles, four interceptions, and seven passes defended. He was named the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year in the Big Ten and a second-team All-American.

Instead of coming back to Iowa City for his senior season, Hooker declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Titans in the fourth round.

Epenesa records first sack of NFL career

A.J. Epenesa was a healthy scratch for the Buffalo Bills in the team’s first game of the 2020 season. In Week 2, the former Hawkeye defensive lineman was active, but didn’t record a statistic.

Things changed in week three.

Epenesa made his way into Buffalo’s rotation against the Los Angeles Rams. On a second-and-five play in the first quarter of Sunday’s game, Rams quarterback Jared Goff rolled to his right — only to have No. 57 in a Bills’ uniform chase him down.

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The sack was Epenesa’s first in the NFL. The Glen Carbon, Illinois, native also recorded two quarterback hits on the day.

Epenesa declared for the 2020 NFL Draft following his junior season at Iowa. Epenesa recorded 26.5 sacks and 36 tackles for loss in three seasons as a Hawkeye. He was a first-team All-Big Ten performer as a sophomore and a junior.

In April, Epenesa was a second-round pick by the Bills. Heading into this junior season and leading up to the draft, Epenesa was projected by many to be a first-round pick. His name wasn’t called on the first day of the draft, and the Bills may have landed a 6-foot-6, 280-pound steal.

Hockenson sets team record

The Detroit Lions have had a shaky start to the NFL season, but the team’s starting tight end has been extremely dependable.

Former Hawkeye and 2019 first-round pick T.J. Hockenson became the first tight end in Lions’ franchise history to produce at least 50 receiving yards in each of the first three games of a season.

The Chariton, Iowa, native is also the first Lions tight end to have four or more receptions and 50 or more receiving yards in three-straight games since Brandon Pettigrew did so in 2010.

Hockenson has 13 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown through three games this season for the 1-2 Lions. As a rookie last season, he caught 32 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.

Hockenson was the John Mackey Award Winner for Iowa as the nation’s best tight end in 2018. His 49 receptions for 760 yards and six touchdowns that season also earned Hockenson a first-team All-American distinction.