Before the 2019 college football season started, A.J. Epenesa was considered to be a first-round lock for the 2020 NFL Draft. Some even thought the Iowa defensive end would be a top 10 selection, potentially even creeping into the top five.
Those hopes have been essentially dashed following last season and the NFL Scouting Combine. While the former Hawkeye is still an incredible talent, he’s slipped from a first-round lock to a potential second-round selection.
Epenesa didn’t put up the kind of numbers many expected to see last season, but he still racked up 11.5 sacks on the year. He was clutch down the stretch in Iowa’s four-game winning streak to close out the year, getting to the quarterback seven times in wins over Minnesota, Nebraska and USC in the Holiday Bowl.
At that time, Epenesa was still in first-round conversations. But after last week’s NFL Scouting Combine, there are some concerns about the defensive end’s athleticism.
“Iowa edge defender AJ Epenesa, we didn’t have high expectations for him going into Indianapolis,” PFF said, in a video posted on Twitter. “We did not expect him to test with the K’Lavon Chaisson, Chase Young’s of the world, but still fell below expectations. How much does that hurt his stock?
“He doesn’t win with athleticism, but a 5.04 40 (yard dash) is not great,” PFF said. “The (comparison) in the draft guide was Trey Flowers. That’s who he can be in terms of versatility, the way he wins with his hands, but even Trey Flowers ran a 4.93. He is still on the threshold of worrisome athleticism, but the way he wins is not necessarily with athleticism. He wins with his strength, wins with his hands. I do think at his age, still young, the only true junior coming out, he can still develop physically, but I think he almost needs to decide hey he’s only 275 pounds right now. Either I go get bigger, 285, 290 and go kick more inside or I start to trim, try to get more cut up and actually try to win on the edges as an edge defender because right now he’s a little bit in no man’s land.”
Obviously, the combine doesn’t paint the whole picture, but it appeared to raise enough questions that it could prevent teams from taking an early chance on Epenesa. It should be interesting to see where he falls come late April.
A.J. Epenesa: worrisome athleticism scores pic.twitter.com/WV9JTl1Kib
— PFF (@PFF) March 7, 2020