Epenesa selected by Buffalo Bills in second round of 2020 NFL Draft

A.J. Epenesa is headed to Buffalo to bolster the Bills’ defensive front.


Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa displays his Defensive MVP award to his family during the Holiday Bowl game between Iowa and USC at SDCCU Stadium on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Trojans, 49-24.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

The second Hawkeye in the 2020 NFL Draft is off the board.

After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs with the 13th pick in the draft on Thursday, the Buffalo Bills picked defensive end A.J. Epenesa in the second round with the 54th overall pick on Friday.

Epenesa will replace Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson, who recorded 9.5 and 6.5 sacks, respectively, last season. Phillips was signed by the Arizona Cardinals earlier this month. Lawson chose to sign with the Miami Dolphins in March.

After a slow start statistically to his season in 2019, Epenesa took his game to another level down the final stretch. In his final five games, Epenesa recorded eight sacks, 10.5 tackles for a loss, and four forced fumbles.

Epenesa notched 10.5 sacks to lead the Big Ten in 2018, 11.5 in 2019, and 26.5 over his three-year college career. He was named a second-team AP All-American for his performance last season.

Despite the stellar statistics he put up, Epenesa slid down mock drafts during the draft process. After entering the 2019 season as a potential top-10 selection, Epenesa fell toward the end of the first round or early second round due to his performance at the NFL Combine.

Still, Iowa head Kirk Ferentz sees plenty of upside in Epenesa.

“To me, what’s most important is what you see on film, and what A.J. does on film you can’t teach,” Ferentz said. “He has some really unique skills and abilities. All you have to do is look at his production. Look at it against guys who are projected as first-rounders and second-rounders.

“It’s as simple as this for me: when you get ready for a team in preparation, there are certain players that you better be fully aware of what they’re doing and where they’re at and what’s going to happen when the ball’s snapped… I would imagine if you’re playing us when you look at Epenesa, you say the same thing, ‘We better have a plan for this guy over here, or he’s going to disrupt the game a little bit.”

Former teammate Wirfs agrees with Ferentz.

“I think people just need to put on the tape and see what he does on the field,” Wirfs said. “I think a lot of teams missed out, and somebody’s going to get an absolute steal of the draft. He’s going to get there with a chip on his shoulder — I know he is. And he’s going to be a force.”

Epenesa will bring size and power to the Bills, who have Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy on the edge on their roster. Although some questioned his ability to stop the run, Epenesa made strides in that area last season.

Epenesa makes two defensive ends taken from Iowa in two years. Epenesa’s former teammate and fellow defensive end, Anthony Nelson, was chosen by Tampa Bay in the fourth round last year.

Epenesa will also join former Hawkeyes Micah Hyde, Ike Boettger, and Nick Easley in Buffalo.