Versatile Defensive Lineman Pegged for Patriots No. 23 Pick, Per Draft Expert

Getty IOWA CITY, IOWA- SEPTEMBER 7: Defensive end A.J. Epenesa #94 of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates his sack during the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on August 31, 2019 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

With the No. 23 pick in the NFL Draft, the New England Patriots select, defensive end, from Iowa, A.J. Epenesa. That is what Bleacher Report’s draft expert Matt Miller expects to hear commissioner Roger Goodell say on April 23 when the Patriots are on the clock in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Matt Miller Discusses Epenesa’s Fit on Patriots Roster

Versatility is perhaps the most valuable trait a defender can have if they are to be a fit in the exotic schemes Bill Belichick’s defenses like to run. As Miller explains in his mock draft tweet, Epenesa has the potential to be an effective contributor in a variety of roles:

AJ Epenesa’s College Statistics

Over three seasons with the Iowa Hawkeyes, Epenesa improved his statistics each year. As a freshman, he tallied 4.5 sacks in just eight games. Heading into his sophomore season, expectations were high and the 6’6″ 280-pounder didn’t disappoint.

Epenesa racked up 10.5 sacks in 13 contests. His junior season, which would be his last in college, was his best campaign. In 13 games, Epenesa had 11.5 sacks. Were it not for the monstrous Chase Young from Ohio State, Epenesa probably would have won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Epenesa was still voted first-team All-Big-Ten for his efforts.

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What Other Scouts Say About Epenesa’s Lance Zierlein projects Epenesa to have a very high floor and a ceiling that could go “from good to great” with the right development.

The size and production should force all evaluators to dial their focus in on what he’s best at rather than any perceived areas of concern. He has average instincts against the run and is a step slow to shed, but he’s strong at the point and he does his job. Epenesa won’t just out-run tackles to the edge, but he’s a skilled rusher whose diversity of attack, skilled hands and unique bull-rushing instincts could help him deliver his college sack production in the pros. He can play end in a 4-3 or 3-4 and could leap from good to great with additional work on technique and explosiveness.

His speed and strength numbers at the NFL Combine were tame, but Epenesa plays with a fire and intensity that reminds me of a young Mark Gastineau, and a less explosive Jared Allen.

Zierlein likes the comparisons to Carlos Dunlap.

Where Would Epenesa Fit With the Patriots

Because he can play the defensive end position in just about any scheme, he seems like a strong fit for the Patriots. New England will go with anything from a 3-4, 4-3, 2-5 and other unconventional looks.

Epenesa could be a situational pass rusher capable of holding his own against the run. You’d have to think the Patriots might see him as a potential upgrade over Lawrence Guy or John Simon. However, the question the Patriots’ brass has to answer is a defensive end the team’s No. 1 priority and worth a first-round pick when there are issues at QB, LB, the offensive line and at safety?

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