Buffalo Bills take A.J. Epenesa with 2nd round pick – reaction

A.J. Epenesa, Iowa Hawkeyes. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
A.J. Epenesa, Iowa Hawkeyes. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images) /

The Buffalo Bills got the edge rusher they needed in the second round of the NFL Draft when they chose A.J. Epenesa from Iowa.

Buffalo Bills General Manager Brandon Beane had to be quietly building excitement as A.J. Epenesa continued to fall through the second round. He wasn’t going to let former Iowa Hawkeyes edge rusher get past the Bills pick at 54.

At the end of the 2019 college season, most mock drafts had A.J. Epenesa as a mid-to-late first-round pick. He was regarded as the second-best edge rusher available after Chase Young. At the Holiday Bowl on December 27, Epenesa made USC left tackle Austin Jackson (18th overall to Miami) look like a chump. His collegiate career ended on a high note, Epenesa finished the game with 4.0 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

The NFL Combine in February was a huge turning point for him. It started well. Mike Tanner of Bleacher Report asked several Big Ten players at the event about Epenesa’s ability. They were very complimentary.

"“A.J. exploits the weakness of what I play. I’m a vertical setter, and the weakness of a vertical set is what A.J. loves to do: bull rush with a one-armed stab. He’s able to catch me leaning a lot, catch me off guard.” – Michigan Tackle, John Runyan Jr."

"“I thought he was a great player. He was physical… He came off the ball with an explosive power.” – Purdue Tight End, Bryce Hopkins"

"“We had some battles… It goes back and forth, me and him. He was one of my best friends on the team. We will try to help each other get better. If he sees something that he beat me on, he’ll tell me what he saw. And when I beat him, I tell him what I saw.” – Iowa Tackle, and teammate, Tristan Wirfs"

Then Epenesa stepped on the field in Indianapolis. To be blunt, he laid a huge egg. Two years of hard work, which included 96 tackles, 30.5 for loss, including 22 sacks and eight forced fumbles, went down the drain in 40-yards which took 5.04 seconds to complete. Those who thought the 6-5, 275-pound defensive end was too slow to be an elite pass rusher seemed to be spot-on. The rest of his drills were mediocre as well.

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In a typical year, Epenesa would have had a chance to prove himself at Iowa’s pro day. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, his shot at redemption went by the wayside. It must have been very difficult to watch other defensive ends come off the board that Epenesa knew he was better than.

In the end, the Buffalo Bills went with what they saw on tape instead of Epenesa’s poor combine performance. A defensive end with a chance to make a significant impact at the next level.

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