Defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who played football and graduated from Edwardsville High School in 2017, has been taken with the 54th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Epenesa was a five-star recruit and All-American coming out of Edwardsville High School in 2017 and had racked up scholarship offers from practically every major Power 5 team in the nation. Epenesa leaned toward choosing the University of Iowa, as his father was a walk-on for Iowa, who A.J. would of course then commit to in January of 2016 during his junior year at Edwardsville.
Epenesa would make an immediate impact for the Iowa Hawkeyes during the 2017 season, recording 15 tackles which included eight solos, five and a half tackles for loss, four and a half sacks, one pass breakup, and one forced fumble. His performance during the 2017 season earned himself Big Ten Conference All-Freshman Team Honors. Epenesa would continue to wreak havoc on Big Ten offenses in his sophomore campaign during the 2018 season, totaling 37 tackles which included a team leading 16.5 tackles for loss and team high of sacks with 10.5. He also added four pass breakups, eight quarterback pressures, four forced fumbles, and a blocked punt en route to being named First Team All-Big Ten.
For his junior campaign in 2019, the hype surrounding A.J. Epenesa continued to grow, as he was named a preseason All-American. Epenesa backed up the hype, having his best season yet at Iowa during the 2019 season. He totaled 49 tackles (32 solos) and led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles while adding nine quarterback pressures and three pass breakups. For his performance, Epenesa was named on several different national All-American lists and First Team All-Big Ten once again. He finished tied for fourth on Iowa’s all-time sacks lists and announced he would forgo his senior year to enter the 2020 NFL Draft.
Ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft, Epenesa was projected as a late first round or at worst an early third round pick. Epenesa’s play on the field was not to be questioned, but scouts were not overly impressed with his combine performance which led to a drop in his draft selection. He was typically ranked in the range of the 3rd-5th best available defensive end by most reputable draft experts. After being selected by the Bills, he now will compete for playing time in a talented Buffalo defensive line group.