The 2020 NFL Draft will be a great event for teams to start building for their future. The Game Haus will be doing scouting reports on some of the top prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft. Iowa edge rusher A.J. Epenesa just became a full-time starter this season, but is a coveted draft prospect.
Position: Edge Rusher
Size: 6-foot-6, 280 pounds
2019 stats: 49 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 4 forced fumbles
Epenesa had a standout high school career that resulted in him being named a U.S. Army All-American. He immediately made an impact for the Hawkeyes and is now a great prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft.
While he didn’t begin the year as a starter for the Hawkeyes, Epenesa had a great freshman season. The Big Ten Network named him to the All-Big Ten Freshman team, as he finished with 4.5 sacks. In his freshman season, the Hawkeyes won eight games, but increased that to 10 games when he was a sophomore. He didn’t start his second-year on campus, but produced with 10.5 sacks, which earned him All-Big Ten First Team honors. He finally started as a junior and led the team to a 10-win season. Epenesa registered 11.5 sacks in his final campaign.
He won’t be one of the most experienced pass rushers in the draft class, but he was successful in his time in college. Now, Epenesa will be one of the first edge rushers selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Epenesa has prototypical size for an edge rusher. Standing at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, he has a build that will be tough for offensive linemen to block. He not only has the height and weight, but he also has the length that the NFL likes in an edge rusher and he uses it well to hold off blockers.
With his size comes excellent strength. He is stronger than a lot of players who block him, which gives him an upper hand on the matchup. He is able to shed blocks very easily thanks to his strength. Offensive linemen simply can’t sustain blocks against him for extended periods of time due to his power. He is a solid power pass rusher.
His run stopping ability is among the best in the class. Because he sheds blocks well, he has a good start to stopping the run. After he sheds the block, he has a solid motor and can chase after the ball carrier. Epeenesa is usually able to finish off the play with a good tackle.
Epenesa isn’t the most athletic pass rusher in the class. A lot of times he wins on his power, but he doesn’t have the best lateral mobility or agility to win. In the NFL, he’ll need to win with his strength consistently because he won’t win based on his athletic ability very often.
Another thing that holds him back when rushing the passer is his lack of flexibility and bend. He plays straight up and down (which also means his pad level can be too high at times), which doesn’t allow him to bend around the edge.
To be a better pass rusher, Epenesa needs to add more pass-rushing moves and counters. He has a nice rip move and a few others, but could add more to his arsenal. If he adds some different moves to go with his strength, Epenesa can be a good NFL pass rusher.
Projected Draft Range: First-Round Pick