Bills DE A.J. Epenesa Explains What’s Behind His Breakout Season

A.J. Epenesa

Getty A.J. Epenesa watches during a game against the Arizona Cardinals.

So far this season, edge rusher A.J. Epenesa has done just about everything the Buffalo Bills could have possibly wanted — except register a sack.

The stat sheet failed to tell the story for the second-year defensive end, as he made just one tackle and two quarterback hits on Sunday, September 19, but sustained pressure all game that kept Miami Dolphins quarterback Jacoby Brissett on the move and often into the arms of his Bills teammates. Epenesa spoke out this week about how a change in physique is fueling his breakout season.

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Adding Weight, Gaining Confidence

The 2020 second-round pick had a rough start to his rookie season. As Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News noted, the Bills had asked Epenesa to cut weight after college and he did — dropping from his college playing weight of 280 pounds all the way down to 245 pounds during the season. Epenesa struggled with the change, and this year put some of that weight back on, playing up to 260 pounds by the start of the season.

As the team’s official website noted, Epenesa has excelled with his new physique and has been making his mark on the field. He played 46% of the team’s defensive snaps against the Dolphins, up from the 33% he played against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener. The defensive end said he now feels more comfortable on the field.

“It definitely gave me a lot more confidence and a lot more juice in the game,” Epenesa said. “Having my teammates there as well gives me the confidence to keep playing. Like we had spoken about before, with having those OTA’s this offseason, that definitely contributes a lot to just having more reps and more experience and getting prepared.”

Epenesa a Monster on the Field

The new physique is earning Epenesa some attention. In an appearance on the Move the Sticks podcast, the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah noted that Epensa is No. 2 in the league in “get off time.” The stat measures the time it takes for a defender’s shoulders to cross the line of scrimmage after the ball is snapped. As Jeremiah pointed out, the top five in “get off time” last season were T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Carl Lawson, Yannick Ngakoue and Myles Garrett.

“There’s no scrubs in that bunch,” Jeremiah said. “There’s no imposters. Those are all real dudes so that tells me this get off number means something.”

Jeremiah said the stat proves that Epenesa is for real.

“So that tells me, you wanna buy stock in somebody? Buy stock in that dude,” he said.

Despite the trouble he’s causing for offenses on the field, Epenesa said it’s been a bit disappointing that he hasn’t been able to register a sack. But the defensive end said he’s confident that those will come as long as he can keep the pressure.

“You could be one step behind, or he throws it right before you get there, or you just miss him,” he said, via the team’s website. “I had a couple just plain old misses. So those are the things I want to cut down on and keep those pressures coming but get him down and get that loss of yardage there.”

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