Patriots Mock Draft Pick: Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa


The Patriots are going to be adding to their defense this offseason and presumably through the NFL Draft in April.  The Patriots have the 23rd pick in the first round and can go in so many different directions with that pick.  Will Bill Belichick go with Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa? 

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The 6-foot-5, 275 pound defensive end is expected to be selected in the first round in this years draft.  Epenesa was a five-star recruit out of Illinois that earned Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors and as a junior he was named AP and Walter Camp second -team All American. 

Epenesa tallied a career-high 11.5 sacks for the Hawkeyes last season.  He also posted 42 tackles, three passes defensed and four forced fumbles.  Epenesa totaled 22 sacks over the last two seasons.

Epenesa focuses his game around his length and technique on the edge.  The Patriots had 47 quarterback sacks in 2019 and with the potential turnover on defensive would welcome Epenesa on the edge.  The Patriots two most productive pass rushers were unrestricted free agents in Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy. Collins signed with the Lions and Van Noy is heading to Miami during free agency. 

Everyone knows that Belichick loves value and he can get that with Epenesa and will be able to add him to a pass rushing group that currently includes Chase Winovich, John Simon and Dont’a Hightower. 

Epenesa has the ability and the power to work his way into the backfield.  “AJ Epenesa has been a dynamic defensive playmaker across his last two seasons at Iowa, racking up 30.5 tackles for loss, 22 sacks, eight forced fumbles and seven pass deflections.  His blend of length, devastating power, technique and urgency gives him a chance to do the same in the NFL,” wrote Joe Marino of the Draft Network.  He would go on to add, “Epenesa is a tailor-made fit for the New England Patriots style of defensive linemen where length and heavy hands to control at the point of attack are required.”

At the NFL Combine, Epenesa’s workout results weren’t the stats of an elite edge rusher. His stats included a 5.04-second 40-yard dash with a 1.78-second 10-yard split.

Michigan left tackle Jon Runyan provided some feedback to Bleacher Report on Epenesa.  "A.J. exploits the weakness of what I play," Runyan said.  "I'm a vertical setter, and the weakness of a vertical set is what A.J. loves to do: bull rush with a one-armed stab.  He's able to catch me leaning a lot, catch me off guard.” 
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Runyan added that Epenesa and Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young were the two toughest defensive ends he has ever faced. 

The Patriots could use stud pass rusher on defense and they truly haven’t had one since the loss of Trey Flowers to the Lions in free agency. 

When the Patriots drafted Flowers out of Arkansas, he was a 6-foot-2, 266 pounder who ran a 4.93 40 yard-dash.  While not the greatest numbers, he turned out to become a very good NFL player for the Patriots. 

ESPN’s Todd McShay broke down Epenesa in one of his mock drafts saying, “Epenesa is a perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end replacement for Trey Flowers one year after Flowers signed with Detroit.  He plays right around 280 pounds and with power, making up for a lack of explosiveness (he ran a 5.04-second 40 at the combine).  Epenesa finished his final Iowa season with eight sacks in five games, but his ability to set the edge against the run shouldn't be discounted.  While the Patriots might need an interior offensive lineman or safety, with Joe Thuney and Devin McCourty set to be free agents, the value isn't as strong at No. 23.  And don't expect coach Bill Belichick to draft a receiver in the first round in back-to-back years despite a desire to upgrade there, too.

While Epenesa hopes to be a top-15 pick in the draft, he might slide some with his showing from the Combine. If he were to slide to 23, he would provide tremendous value for Belichick.  If the Patriots select Epenesa, he will quickly bolster the Patriots front seven. I like the idea of a massive edge rusher who isn’t your prototypical 3-4 style player on defense for the Patriots. Belichick will be able to develop his skills while Epenesa brings incredible talent to the Patriots. 

The Patriots have a lot of holes to fill out the roster and would be wise to take the best player available at pick number 23 or trade it and acquire additional picks in the draft.  If there is one thing we know about Belichick, it’s hard to predict what he will do and very rarely ever selects the player we want. - Customized NFL Gear

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Patriots Mock Draft Pick: Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa
Patriots Mock Draft Pick: Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa
Boston Sports Syndicate
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