A.J. Epenesa is showing out as a top-tier 2020 NFL draft prospect.
Entering this season, Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa was one of the premier defensive prospects in the 2020 NFL draft class. For most, Epenesa was right up there with Ohio State’s Chase Young as arguably the best defensive prospect in college football. However, his 2019 season has not exactly gone according to plan.
While Young has exploded in to arguably the best overall player in the 2020 NFL Draft, Epenesa’s production has slipped this year. Despite taking on a full-time role for the first time in his career, Epenesa has not put up the huge numbers this season like he did last year. Entering Saturday’s matchup against Minnesota, Epenesa only had 4.5 sacks on the year. As a part-time player in 2018, Epenesa piled up 10.5 sacks.
Opposing offenses have put a ton of attention on Epenesa this season, consistently double and even triple-teaming him at his right defensive end position. That being said, despite the constant attention, Epenesa was able to make a massive impact against Minnesota on Saturday. In Iowa’s 23-19 over the 7th-ranked Golden Gophers, Epenesa piled up 2.5 sacks and even forced a fumble.
He was absolutely unblockable on Saturday and undoubtedly brought his 2020 NFL draft stock back to a respectable level. Epenesa is never going to get on the Chase Young level again, but he is a rock-solid first-round player who could get himself in the top-ten conversation with continued strong play.
Epenesa is known as more of a power-based player. He is incredibly strong at the point of attack and does an incredible job of winning with leverage and strong hands. Epenesa is a stout run defender who can also win with the bull rush. However, do not sleep on his ability to move.
Epenesa is extremely quick off of the ball and has surprising quickness in short spaces. He gets consistent upfield burst and can bend around the edge a bit. Epenesa undoubtedly put some good tape on the board on Saturday, but it was his strip-sack that stood out to me. Look at the incredible inside move here and the ability to change directions quickly.
Everybody knows that Epensa is strong, but I do not think many realize that he can move like that. This guy is a fantastic athlete who is an explosive rusher on the edge.
In recent weeks, Iowa has been moving Epenesa inside at times. This is something that I love to see him do because it will likely be a major part of his game at the next level. Epenesa is a scheme-versatile player who can make an impact in an odd or even front. Even if he is a defensive end on early downs in the NFL, on obvious passing downs, Epenesa and his 6-foot-6, 280-pound frame will kick inside and become a matchup nightmare for offensive guards.
Iowa kicked Epenesa inside a bit more than usual in this game and he was able to make a consistent impact. Look how he just abuses the offensive guard on this sack.
The 2019 season has not gone exactly according to plan for Epenesa. That being said, he is still an extremely talented 2020 NFL draft prospect who has massive upside at the next level.
This massive game against Minnesota will put Epenesa’s stock back on the rise. If he can continue to play and produce at this high of a level, the sky is the limit for this Hawkeye.