NFL Draft: Falcons Linked to Big Iowa Star in First-Round

AJ Epenesa

Getty Defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa of Iowa runs a drill during the NFL Combine.

Former Iowa Hawkeye’s star defensive end, A.J. Epenesa could be the Atlanta Falcons’ No. 16 pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

Epenesa is a 6-foot-6, 280-pound defensive end with a record of 26.5 sacks in his three seasons as a Hawkeye. He is known for his power, size, and understanding of how to get to the quarterback. He plays very smart and always has a plan of attack as a pass rusher.

He would join his cousin, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner who is also a DE if he were to come to Atlanta.

The Whole Package

Atlanta Falcons reporter Kelsey Conway and Falcons’ color analyst Dave Archer dissected Espensa‘s skills on Monday.

“What I love about him, he is a pure 4-3 defensive end, Archer said. He’s a big dude with heavy hands. By that I mean when he puts his hands on you, you feel him. This is a guy that can set the edge in the run game and then has a really good burst to the passer. So I think if you want to talk about a pure package defensive end, this is the guy. Epenesa’s the guy. ”

What Archer really hones in on is Epenesa’s versatility, something coach Dan Quinn is a huge fan of.

“Big bodied guy, really good against the run. And what I like about him is that he can shift inside. And let’s say you wanted to go with Takk and Fowler on the edge and you wanted to put Epenesa in the inside, now all of a sudden you’ve got 4-3 guys up front. Then you put Grady in there, you’ve got four guys who can rush the passer. I love his versatility in that way too.

And like we talked about K’Lavon Chaisson being able to drop off and cover. Epenesa has the ability to change his position along the defense from which we’ve seen Coach Quinn likes to do. We saw it with Adrian Clayborn, we’ve seen it with Johnathan Babineaux, we’ve seen it with different guys that have played differently than just one particular position. Epenesa fills a lot of needs and he is a rough customer when it comes to gameday. Big, heavy dude that’ll put his hat on.”

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Epenesa Compares Himself to J.J. Watt

Epenesa grew up wearing No. 99 because he compares his play to Texans’ star J.J. Watt who wears No. 99. Archer can see the comparison but still thinks Epenesa has some work to do in order to get on Watt’s level.

“That’s a good guy to simulate. If you’re going to simulate a guy, J.J. Watt is about as good as it gets at this level. I can see some of the comparisons. I think he has some of that power. J.J. Watt might be a little bit more twitchy, a little bit more quicker.

But I do think this guy has some ‘close’ ability. Some short speed ability to get to the quarterback and close out, put guys on the ground. And when he gets you in his hands, this is the guy that’s not going to lose you. This is a big, heavy dude that can pull you to the ground. We see quarterbacks stepping out of some of these backs sometimes, not out of this guy’s hands.”

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