Aiyuuuuuk! 49ers wide receiver Africa's star player in NFL week 1

ByLeonard Solms ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The new NFL season started in dramatic fashion this past weekend, with the Dallas Cowboys' 40-0 demolition of the New York Giants, and New York Jets' quarterback Aaron Rodgers' season-ending achilles injury.

Africa's players made their presence felt on the highlight reels too, though, with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk enjoying a great connection with QB Brock Purdy, and the Cowboys' Osa Odighizuwa putting on a defensive masterclass.

ESPN will recap African players' efforts after each gameweek, with players either born on the continent or first generation qualifying for consideration. With over 125 players from Africa, and 93 from Nigeria alone, there won't be a shortage of talent to choose from.

African Player of the Week: Brandon Aiyuk (San Francisco 49ers)

There were many impressive performances from African players this past gameweek, but when picking the standout display, it is difficult to overlook the wide receiver who got two touchdowns in a 30-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Aiyuk, whose mother is an advanced nurse practitioner from Cameroon who moved to the US in 1992, was on fire for the San Francisco 49ers in their win at Acrisure Stadium, getting touchdowns in the first and second quarters.

The 25-year-old finished the game with eight receptions and 129 receiving yards, with his connection with Purdy appearing almost telepathic. It was a banner day for 49ers fans and fantasy footballers.

Most improved African player of the week: Felix Anudike-Uzomah (Kansas City Chiefs)

Playing in his first ever NFL game after being the 31st pick in this April's NFL Draft, Anudike-Uzomah, who is of Nigerian descent, looked at home - and not only because he was playing for his hometown team.

With two tackles and two QB hits, he made an impression even though the defending Super Bowl champions went down 21-20 to the Detroit Lions in their season opener.

African Moment of the Week: Noah Igbinoghene touchdown (Dallas Cowboys)

Igbinoghene, who was born in Trussville, Alabama, but lived in Nigeria for part of his life, set the tone for the Cowboys' 40-0 crushing of the Giants with the first touchdown of the game.

Off a blocked Giants field goal, Igbinoghene raced onto the ball to score the 58-yard TD and fly the flag high for his country in a victory that will live long in the memory.

The Cowboys secured the first NFL opening week shutout road win of 40 or more points by any team in the last 24 years, thus making a major statement of intent.

Honourable mentions: Odighizuwa smashes Giants; West African trio star for the Browns

When selecting the player of the week, it was difficult to choose between Aiyuk and the player who was one of the best performers for undoubtedly the team of the week, the Dallas Cowboys, namely Osa Odighizuwa, a son of a Nigerian family, though he was born in Dayton, Ohio.

Odighizuwa picked up four tackles, two sacks and three QB hits. The display carried personal significance for Odighizuwa because his brother, Owa, was drafted by the Giants in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns look set to hand important roles to their West African trio of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Ghana), David Njoku and Ogbo Okoronkwo (both Nigeria). All three featured heavily in the Browns' 24-3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, with Okoronkwo in particular impressing for his new team.

Njoku, who has been with the Browns since he was drafted in 2017, is one of the team's senior players now. He was not at his most impactful, but still looks set to play an important leadership role this season.

Owusu-Koramoah, who grabbed headlines before the game for dazzling with a Kente cloth, picked up three tackles, while Okoronkwo recorded three tackles and a sack.

Homegrown African players watch:

Igbinoghene spent part of his life in Nigeria, but he was far from the only player to feature in the first week of the NFL who has lived in their African country of origin.

Brian Asamoah, who lived in Ghana for a year with his uncle at the age of 10, would have hoped for more game time than two snaps, but nevertheless got to feature in the Vikings' 20-17 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Nelson Agholor, who was born in Lagos, was on the winning side for the Baltimore Ravens against the Houston Texans, as was David Ojabo.

Kader Kohou, who was born in Abidjan, Cte d'Ivoire, enjoyed arguably the moment of the week for an African-born player and a strong contender for Moment of the Week overall, as he achieved his first career sack, helping the Miami Dolphins to a 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Kwity Paye, who was born in Guinea as a refugee of the First Liberian Civil War, shone for the Indianapolis Colts against the Jacksonville Jaguars with four tackles and a sack, though the game ultimately ended in defeat.

The NFL airs on ESPN's channels in Africa (DStv 218 and 219).

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