Position: Edge Rusher
Weight: 280 pounds
School: Iowa Hawkeyes
A.J. Epenesa 2020 NFL Draft Profile
As one of the top edge rushing prospects in the 2017 recruiting class, there was naturally quite a bit of interest in A.J. Epenesa from the top college programs in the nation. He received 21 Power Five scholarship offers and it included plenty of big-time schools including Alabama and Oklahoma. The Edwardsville, IL native decided to stay relatively close to home, though, as he committed to Iowa relatively early in the recruiting process. He was the fourth commit in long-time Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz‘s 2017 class.
It didn’t take long for him to make an impact once he arrived on campus. As a true freshman, he tallied 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss en route to making the Big Ten All-Freshman team. But it was the next two seasons where he truly showcased his potential as a player able to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. In that span, he accounted for 22 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss, leading the team in both categories during those campaigns. He also managed an impressive eight forced fumbles over the course of his sophomore and junior seasons. His college career culminated with a standout performance in a win over USC in the Holiday Bowl which led to him being named the game’s defensive MVP.
- boasts physical traits that NFL teams crave;
- opposing linemen struggle to contain his quick and violent hands;
- a legitimate strip-sack threat on a consistent basis;
- speed to power conversion shows up big-time on film;
- a consistent disruptor via pass breakups;
- an intense and relentless pursuer of the quarterback/ball-carrier;
- a versatile player who can line up on the edge and as a three-technique;
- has a high motor and never takes a play off;
- lived up to his billing as a highly prized recruit out of high school.
- stays anchored to lineman too often rather than disengaging and attacking ball-carrier;
- a bit one-dimensional as a pass rusher;
- needs to add additional moves to his overall pass-rushing repertoire;
- tries to win with power too much rather than bending around the edge;
- opposing players with a pass-blocking plan can keep him in check.
NFL Comparison: Carlos Dunlap
Teams With Need at Position: Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins
Projection: Mid to late first round
A.J. Epenesa Bottom Line
It didn’t come as much of a surprise that A.J. Epenesa declared for the draft after just three seasons in Iowa City. In that span, he emerged as one of the top pass rushers not just in the Big Ten, but in the nation. He finished top 15 nationally in sacks as both a sophomore and a junior which definitely hints at his potential as a passing game disruptor at the next level. It’s a major reason why teams with a need at edge rusher have him at the top of their draft board.
What stands out about Epenesa is his ability to dominate opposing linemen at the point of attack. He’s intensity personified when battling in the trenches which makes him a threat to force a negative play time and time again. Though he does need to become a more well-rounded pass rusher, there are few players in this year’s draft class at his position with as highly developed a skill set. He certainly won’t go as early as fellow Big Ten edge man Chase Young. But he should hear his name called later on day one of the draft.