So You've Drafted AJ Epenesa: A New Owner’s Guide

By RossWB on April 24, 2020 at 9:10 pm
go AJ go
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Congratulations! You've just made the wonderful decision to draft AJ Epenesa! Like most new AJ Epenesa owners, you're no doubt filled with questions about your new family member. We here at GIA will try our best to answer any questions you might have.

HELLO BUFFALO BILLS!

WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT AJ EPENESA?

Epenesa was a 5* recruit coming out of high school and he was an immediate impact player on the Iowa defense as a true freshman in 2017, recording 4.5 sacks and 8 QB hurries in a situational pass rush role. Epenesa didn't officially start for Iowa until the 2019 campaign, but don't let that fool you -- he wasn't officially a starter during his first two season because Iowa had entrenched multi-year starters, but he still saw a lot of action on the field and made his presence known. He led the Big Ten in sacks last year with 10.5 -- again, in a rotational role -- and was an absolute menace to opposing offensive lines. Epenesa got a starting spot this season and thrived, recording 49 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. Epenesa earned first team All-Big Ten honors two years in a row and upped that to All-America recognition in 2019 as well. He got the job done over the last three seasons and he got it done well. 

WHAT DID HE DO THAT'S SO GREAT?

Epenesa's strengths are based in his physicality; he's not the quickest pass rusher (we'll get to that in a bit), but he does have a potent blend of power and technique that makes him difficult to contain, especially in one-on-one situations. He has solid length, a good first step, and he has a strong and varied set of pass-rushing techniques. Epenesa is a powerful bull rusher, but he also uses his hands well to create space and shed blockers. Oh, and his hands are absolutely nasty

Epenesa is masterful at timing his karate chop attacks to force strip-sacks and generate fumbles. He has a nose for the football and a keen sense of when to time his swipes to generate havoc. 

Versatility is also a key strength for Epenesa. He primarily played as a right defensive end in Iowa's 4-3 looks, but he's capable of playing as a left end in a 4-3 defense or on either side of a 3-4 defensive front. In a 4-3 defense, he's also capable of sliding inside, which he did to devastating effect late in the season for Iowa. Interior blockers were often utterly helpless against his combination of strength and skill. Epenesa is a lineman who can play all three downs and play multiple positions along the defensive line; that versatility and adaptability should make him a very, very useful player. 

STATS

YEAR TACKLES TFL SACKS QB HURRY FOR FUM PASS DEF
2017 15 5.5 4.5 8 1 1
2018 37 16.5 10.5 9 4 4
2019 49 14.5 11.5 9 4 3
TOTAL 101 36.5 26.5 26 9 8

HOW ARE HIS PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES?

About that... 

40 YD DASH BENCH PRESS VERT JUMP BROAD JUMP 3 CONE 20 YD SHUTTLE
5.04 sec 17 reps 32.5 in 117.0 in 7.34 sec 4.46 sec

Look, those numbers are the biggest reasons why Epenesa was still available near the end of the second round. He's not the fastest or most agile player. Does that negatively impact his ability to consistently make plays on the football field? No. 

HIGHLIGHTS

WHAT ABOUT THE BAD? 

We pretty much hit that in the physical attributes section. That 40 time isn't great, obviously. He's not going to use his speed to blow by blockers and he's not going to change direction on a dime. He's not the bendiest pass rusher and he's good, but not always great in run-stopping duties (though he improved considerably in that department from his freshman to his junior seasons). He struggled with double-teams at the beginning of the 2019 season, though by the end of the year he was becoming very adept at finding ways to get through them and get to the passer. 

WAS THIS A GOOD PICK? 

Absolutely -- especially at #54, late in the second round. Epenesa has first round ability (and had first round production at Iowa), but fell into the second round because teams got scared by his combine performance and some of his physical shortcomings. But focusing on the few things he doesn't do well at the expense of everything he does very well seems beyond foolish. Epenesa was tremendously productive at Iowa, often against strong competition -- he absolutely demolished Austin Jackson, the USC offensive tackle who went in the first round in this year's draft, in the Holiday Bowl a few months ago. Epenesa may not be the flashiest or the quickest defensive end, but he's a physical wrecking ball with high-end technique, scary length, and a nose of mayhem when he's around the quarterback. Couple that with his ability to play all over the defensive line and you've got a player who I'd want to have on my defensive line. You're going to like him a lot, Bills Mafia. 

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