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NFL Draft Profile: Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa

Could Epenesa be the first-round talent who falls to the Bengals at 33?

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl - USC v Iowa Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Epenesa has been a dominant force on the Hawkeyes defensive line for the last two seasons and could make a big impact on Sundays, but will it be with the Bengals?

A.J. Epenesa

Position: Defensive End

School: Iowa Hawkeyes

Class: Junior

Hometown: Glen Carbon, Illinois

Height: 6-5

Weight: 275

Red Flags: None

NFL Comp: Calais Campbell Profile


Epenesa is a skilled pass rusher who had 11.5 sacks in 2019 and 10.5 sacks in 2018 and was frequently impacting the quarterback on other plays.

He has great strength on his bull rush and is able to put together some good pass rush moves with quick hands and smooth hips.

Epenesa is a stout run defender who can hold the edge and disengage from blocks to make the tackle.

He has the versatility to play a variety of positions in the Bengals’ defensive fronts including a 9-tech, 5-tech, and can even be an interior pass rusher in certain situations.


Epenesa does not have the speed that teams generally look for in an edge rusher.

Although he wins with power as a pass rusher, he struggles with double teams in the run game and can get driven back. He needs to learn how to split and/or collapse double teams, especially if he is going to play an inside technique.

Bengals Fit

The Bengals currently have only 3 defensive ends on the roster and Carl Lawson is a potential free agent after the season. Epenesa brings something a little different to the table.

In 4-man defensive fronts he could be a defensive end or bump inside as a pass-rusher.

When the Bengals ran their odd-fronts last season, they had 3 defensive tackles and 2 stand-up defensive ends. Epenesa could fill in the roll of the stand-up defensive end, but would ideally be the 5-tech defensive tackle.

His play-style provides a nice change-up for the Bengals and his versatility gives him even greater value.

He has Round 1 film, but his combine performance may have scared some teams off. Epenesa could be just the steal at 33 that Bengals fans are hoping for.

Summary: Epenesa is a top flight defensive line prospect who lacks the ideal speed and burst to be an edge rusher. The team that sees past this and understands how he wins will reap the rewards.