CLOSE
CLOSE

SportsPulse: Football is back! Yes, we know it's just the preseason, but we still got to see the rookie QB's debut and no one impressed quite like Daniel Jones. USA TODAY

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Another pack of Hawkeye rookies is battling through the NFL preseason. Some are trying to justify lofty draft positions. Other are simply fighting for jobs. 

With Week 1 come and gone, let's break down how Iowa's first-year players fared in their professional debuts. We'll do this for each week of the preseason. 

T.J. Hockenson, TE, Detroit Lions 

Stats: Hockenson played but didn't record a catch in Thursday's 31-3 loss to the New England Patriots.

Skinny: Don't let the goose egg fool you. Hockenson has torn it up in preseason camp, quieting critics who balked at the Lions selecting a tight end so high at No. 8 overall. An in-depth camp breakdown from MLive.com's Kyle Meinke reveals Hockenson and quarterback Matthew Stafford have already developed a nice connection. The sure hands that made Hockenson a fan favorite at Iowa haven't changed at the next level. Although he didn't catch anything against New England Thursday, recent joint practices with the Patriots only accentuated Hockenson's value. He'll look to get on the board Saturday at Houston. 

Media coverage: In addition to MLive's and Mike Reiss' breakdowns, ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein dove into Hockenson here and here.   

Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos

Stats: Fant had two catches for 14 yards in Thursday's 22-14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He also had one catch for seven yards in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 1.

Skinny: It doesn't seem Fant has started as smoothly as Hockenson, but the other half of Iowa's tight-end duo seems to be finding his role in Denver. It should increase throughout the preseason, by necessity, if anything. Rookie tight end Austin Fort tore his ACL — and Jeff Heuerman (shoulder) and Jake Butt (knee) remain slowed — leaving Denver with three healthy bodies at the position (Fant, Troy Fumagalli and rookie Moral Stephens). Fant by far has the most upside and should get a ton of preseason work. He returns to action Monday versus San Francisco.      

Media coverage: The Gazette's Paul Klee had a nice dive into Fant before the Seattle game. Lot of ground covered with some familiar references.   

Anthony Nelson, LB, Tampa Bay Bucs

Stats: Nelson (knee) didn't travel to Pittsburgh for Friday's 30-28 loss to the Steelers. 

Skinny: A minor knee issue has slowed the fourth-round pick, who's been in and out of practice to start. Bucs reporter Greg Auman tweeted last Thursday that Nelson was wearing a brace, but that his injury isn't considered long-term. That's good news for Nelson, who the Bucs have converted into a linebacker hybrid now. Nelson could be ready to roll Friday against Miami.  

Media coverage: In this depth-chart breakdown from Auman, he pegs Nelson as "a safe bet as the fourth OLB."   

Amani Hooker, S, Tennessee Titans

Stats: Hooker co-led the Titans with four tackles, all solo, in Thursday's 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Skinny: Many analysts considered Hooker a steal at No. 116 on draft day, and it seems his early camp work has backed that up. Hooker cracked Pro Football Focus' under-the-radar rookies list for the preseason. Hooker's ability to juggle multiple defensive positions, just like he did in college, has already pleased head coach Mike Vrabel. Hooker's next chance to shine comes Saturday versus New England. The Titans are deep at safety, but Hooker's versatility will have him in position to make an impact.      

Media coverage: USA Today has Hooker on a similar list: most intriguing late-round rookies to watch in the 2019 NFL preseason. 

Nick Easley, WR, Buffalo Bills

Stats: Easley didn't record a catch in Thursday's 24-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts. 

Skinny: Although Easley had a nice start to camp, including one brilliant touchdown snag, the undrafted wide receiver didn't make much of an impact in his pro debut. Every opportunity counts when you're on the roster fence. Multiple places project Easley to fall short of the 53-man roster, but he still has time to deliver — even if his ultimate destination is the practice squad. His next chance arrives Friday at Carolina.  

Jake Gervase, S, Los Angeles Rams 

Stats: Gervase finished with five tackles, three solo, in Saturday's 14-3 loss to the Oakland Raiders. 

Skinny: A guy who could land a roster spot if everything shakes out perfectly. Special teams success might keep Gervase around more so than any work at safety, where the Rams are top-heavy. Gervase must pounce on every chance to shine. His pro debut was a nice start; his next chance comes Saturday against Dallas.  

Parker Hesse, TE, Tennessee Titans

Stats: Hesse, who has since switched to offense, played but didn't record a catch in Thursday's win over the Eagles. 

Skinny: Hesse is back on offense for the first time since his Waukon days, when he was a first-team all-state selection as a quarterback (and just about everything else). He did get in the game early Thursday, but also had a key hold that negated a long run. We'll see how this move for Hesse shakes out. He'll look to get on the stat sheet against the Patriots.    

Matt Nelson, OT, Detroit Lions

Stats: Nelson made his pro debut at right tackle in Thursday's loss to New England. 

Skinny: Like Hesse, Nelson made the jump to offense soon after signing with an NFL team. He was listed as the third-team right tackle on Detroit's initial depth chart. As for now, Nelson still seems to be on the outside looking in for a 53-man spot

Ross Reynolds, OG, San Francisco 49ers

Stats: Reynolds made his pro debut in Saturday's 17-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys. 

Skinny: Iowa's track record for offensive lineman can only help in situations like Reynolds', where the difference between a roster spot and the practice squad appears thin. According to Pro Football Focus, Reynolds had the second-lowest rating among San Francisco's offensive players. But injuries along the offensive line could swing things Reynolds' way. Sacramento Bee 49ers reporter Chris Biderman still projects Reynolds to land on the practice squad. But we'll see. The 49ers return to action next Monday at Denver.   

Keegan Render, C, Philadelphia Eagles

Stats: Opposite former teammates Hooker and Hesse, Render made his pro debut in Thursday's loss to the Tennessee Titans.  

Skinny: Render had a quiet debut, but he turned heads Monday morning when he caught a touchdown pass in practice as an eligible tackle. He's the third-team center right now and could land a practice squad invite. Eagles beat writer Bo Wulf broke down Philadelphia's undrafted offensive linemen here.  

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE