Tight ends highlight Iowa’s NFL presence in Week 1

Former Hawkeyes George Kittle, Noah Fant, and T.J Hockenson all contributed in the receiving game in the first week of NFL action.

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Junfu Han via Imagn Content Serv

Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson (88) makes a catch against San Francisco 49ers cornerback Jason Verrett (2) during the first half at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter


With former Hawkeye players on 23 of the 32 NFL teams — either on practice squads or active rosters — the Iowa football program was well represented on the first Sunday of the NFL regular season.

Here are some of the standout performances from Week 1.

Tight ends

Known in the football world as “Tight End U,” Iowa certainly lived up to that moniker during the first week of the 2021 NFL season. Former Hawkeyes George Kittle, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson all played pivotal roles in their teams’ season-opening contests.

After an injury-plagued 2020 season that only allowed him to play in eight games, Kittle, a member of the San Francisco 49ers, reeled in four receptions in a 41-33 season-opening win over the Detroit Lions. He was targeted five times and racked up 78 yards in the process. Kittle also lost a fumble on Sunday.

Hockenson faced Kittle in Week 1 as a member of the Lions.

In Detroit’s losing effort, Hockenson made eight receptions on 10 targets for 97 yards, securing the first touchdown pass of quarterback Jared Goff’s Lions career with 13:30 left in the first half, tying the contest at seven apiece.

Fant and receiver Jerry Jeudy each caught a team-leading six passes for the Denver Broncos as the Broncos beat the New York Giants 27-13 at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey. Fant accounted for 62 yards catching 75% of balls thrown his way by new Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Tight ends weren’t the only former Hawkeyes to make an early impact this year.

Linebackers

Four former Hawkeye linebackers made their presence felt on defense to start the NFL slate.

Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann combined to force and recover a fumble for the Chiefs on Sunday. With 5:56 remaining in the third quarter, Cleveland Browns’ running back Nick Chubb took a handoff from quarterback Baker Mayfield and began to run up the middle before Hitchens raked it away from Chubb before Niemann pounced on it.

Nieman totaled three tackles on the day while Hitchens made two solo stops and assisted on two other occasions.

Hitchens left the game in the second quarter with an apparent arm injury before returning after halftime.

Josey Jewell also forced a fumble for the Broncos and contributed four tackles in Denver’s winning effort.

Christian Kirkey also accounted for a takeaway on the league’s first week of action. With his Texans already leading 37-14, Kirksey intercepted an errant Trevor Lawrence pass on second-and-1. The Texans’ win marked the first regular-season loss of Lawrence’s football career — including high school and college.

Other notes

For the Panthers, former Hawkeye defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon recorded half a sack in his NFL debut. Carolina defeated the New York Jets as quarterback Sam Darnold got the better of his former team.

Iowa will have representatives on both teams in Week 2’s first contest on Thursday night. Former Hawkeye offensive lineman Brandon Scherff will suit up for the Washington Football Team, while Josh Jackson is a member of the Giants secondary. Jackson, a former first team all-American, did not see the field in Week 1.

RELATED: Iowa punter Tory Taylor named Big Ten Co-Special Teams Player of the Week

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