If you could build the perfect defensive end, chances are he’d look a lot like Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa. The rising junior has the size, speed, athleticism and technique that has him projected as a future top five pick in the NFL Draft.
But ask Epenesa himself what the perfect defensive end would look like and you might get a different answer. He still believes he has a lot of improvement ahead of him, which is a bit of a scary thought considering how well he’s played through his first two seasons in Iowa City.
“If I could create my perfect self … I’d take Parker (Hesse)’s effort and ‘want-to,’” Epenesa told Marc Morehouse of The Gazette. “Everyone knows Parker’s effort was the greatest anyone could every ask for. Anthony Nelson’s technique and fundamentals, he’s just the most fundamental and technically sound player I know. Matt (Nelson)’s size, he’s obviously a big dude.”
Epenesa said he’d keep his athleticism, as well.
A player with those features would be virtually unstoppable along the defensive line. But the scary thing — well, maybe it’s the exciting part for Hawkeye fans — is this: Epenesa understands that, aside from the size, he can emulate everything he talked about.
In essence, Epenesa can essentially develop into the perfect defensive end that he formulated using his former teammates.
“After I said that, I thought, ‘I’m capable of doing those things on my own,’” Epenesa said. “I can put in a little more effort like Parker. I can focus in on the details more like Anthony. All of those things can come to fruition and be real, it’s just a matter of me doing it.”
Last season, Epenesa totaled 10.5 sacks, leading the B1G conference. He finished the year with 16.5 tackles for loss, 37 total stops, forced four fumbles and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery. And yet, the defensive end is hoping to see major improvements in his game this fall.
That’s not going to be a lot of fun for opposing offensive linemen or quarterbacks. It should be a lot of fun for Epenesa, the Hawkeyes and the fans.