Francis Okupa, KweséESPN 350d

NFL Africa Zone: The Shake and Bake edition

Week five of the NFL season ended up providing some of the greatest thrills (oh hey Aaron Rodgers!), surprising losses, and devastating injuries, but we also saw a number of highlights being made by African players in the league.

Notable Performances

David Njoku (Cleveland Browns #85) - Tight End

Back on the list again, Browns tight end Njoku caught three passes off three targets to him on Sunday. Defended by fellow highly-touted rookie safety Jamal Adams, Njoku ended up with 48 receiving yards and one acrobatic touchdown catch in the Browns' 17-14 loss to the New York Jets.

Orleans Darkwa (New York Giants #26) - Running back

In his return to the field after missing last week's game with a back injury, New York Giants Ghanaian-American running back Darkwa showed why fans have been clamoring for him to receive more carries in the Giants backfield. Coming off three games in which he averaged 4.5 yards per carry and no more than three carries until week three, Darkwa received the ball in the backfield eight times on Sunday and ran for 69 yards. Darkwa broke out for a 23-yard run and a touchdown in the Giants' 27-22 loss to the Chargers. The touchdown run, along with it being Darkwa's first of the season, was also the first touchdown run by a Giants running back all season.

Quick hit with... Orleans Darkwa

Q. You provide the Giants with multiple options on offense and special teams but is the goal to be the starting running back?

A. It's about the team. Whatever they want me to do, I'm willing to do. Obviously you want to be an impact player on this team, that's always been my goal. I want to make sure I make a difference on offense, on special teams, whatever they ask me to do. (Just) help this team win anyway I can."

Q. Do you have family residing in Ghana and have you been able to make it back to visit?

A. I got some in Accra, Takoradi, and Kumasi. I haven't been back since I was 10 but I really want to go back. Hopefully next year I can go back and try to make a difference somehow. I heard what Ziggy (Ansah) did and I was definitely uplifted. Hopefully I'll talk to him in the future and see how I can help.

Ezekiel 'Ziggy' Ansah (Detroit Lions #94)- Defensive End

Accra's own Ziggy Ansah was on the NFL Africa Zone 'players to watch' list for week 5 as his Detroit Lions prepared to go against the Carolina Panthers and their poor offensive line. Ziggy responded nicely after his quiet performances over the past two weeks. Despite the Lions losing 27-24 to the Panthers, Ansah got back in the mix with two tackles, one sack, to go along with a tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit. Ziggy is now up to four sacks on the season with eleven games to play.

George Iloka (Cincinnati Bengals #43) - Safety

The Cincinnati Bengals are in the process of finding some semblance form before the midway point of the season, and Nigerian-American safety George Iloka is as consistent as ever. Iloka remains one of the better safeties in the league and a great safety net in the secondary for the Bengals. Last week Iloka barely missed out on his first interception of the season as his pick was wiped out by a penalty. This week, there was no such misfortune as Iloka intercepted Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor to close out a 20-16 Bengals victory over the Bills. Iloka also added five tackles to push his total to 19 for the season.

African player of the week

Nelson Agholor (Philadelphia Eagles #13) - Wide Receiver

You've likely seen Agholor's now-famous touchdown but the receiver from USC via Lagos showed more than that in the Eagles 34-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Agholor has made a complete 180 in his performance this year, compared to the prior two seasons. On Sunday, Agholor continued his excellent play this season as he caught four passes on five targets to him from quarterback Carson Wentz. Agholor ended up with 93 yards and the one touchdown on that 72-yard reception from Wentz.

On the season, Agholor has 16 receptions for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Agholor is playing carefree football and has found his swagger, which is justifying the confidence that coach Doug Pederson, as well as Wentz, placed in him despite the criticism from fans prior to this season. At the moment, Agholor's play is a major factor in the Eagles 4-1 start to the season and if he keeps it up, the Eagles will surprise oddsmakers and NFL analysts who picked the Dallas Cowboys or the Washington Redskins to win the NFC East.

Postgame quotes - Nelson Agholor

On the touchdown reception from Carson Wentz:

"Carson is known to chuck it. He's going to chuck it, and you have to get under it. At first I thought I was even with him and then I saw the ball, so I turned up another gear to go track it. Carson just gave me a great opportunity and threw such a beautiful ball. It was easy to track and make a play from there."

On his falling backwards into the endzone:

"That was kind of like a tribute to DeSean Jackson. He always used to do that and I watched a lot of his tapes, so shout out to D-Jax for that."

Eagles coach Doug Pederson on Agholor's play right now:

"I see this kid every day and the way he walks in the building with confidence. Nothing gets him down. He works extremely hard, and he's playing at a high level right now."

- Via USA Today Eagles Wire

African players to watch in Week 6

Alex Okafor - New Orleans Saints DE

Coming off a bye week, Okafor and the Saints will be hosting the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford is dealing with an injured ankle which had him hobbling in the Lions loss to the Panthers. Stafford is one of the tougher quarterbacks in the league and will undoubtedly be under center, but a hobbled Stafford will find it difficult to get outside the pocket.

Okafor and his Saints defensive linemates should be able to do enough to feast on Stafford and the Lions offensive line (especially left tackle Greg Robinson). Keep in mind Stafford endured six sacks this past Sunday for the second week in a row. The Saints and Okafor won't be in the mood to help Stafford and the Lions lessen that number this Sunday.

Jahleel Addae and Russell Okung - L.A. Chargers Safety and Left tackle

The Chargers are coming off a victory against the New York Giants, and Ghanaian-American safety Jahleel Addae was immense with eight tackles (to give him 35 on the season to date). Nigerian-American left tackle Russell Okung, coming off a poor season in Denver last year, is redeeming himself with the Chargers. Okung has only allowed one sack and five QB hurries this season.

Per Pro Football Focus, Okung is also one of the top 10 offensive linemen in pass blocking this season. Playing divisions the Raiders in Oakland this Sunday, Okung will be tested by last season's defensive player of the year Khalil Mack, who already has four sacks on the season and Raiders right defensive end Mario Edwards (three sacks on the season). Addae will see a lot of Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, who is known for running over defenders, but will find a very formidable opponent in Addae at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum.

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