A.J. Epenesa

AFC East Notes: Bills, Epenesa, Patriots, Jets

In January, defensive end A.J. Epenesa looked the part of a top-15 pick. But, after a shaky combine performance, his draft stock crashed. That worked out just fine for the Bills, who managed to land the Iowa standout in the second round.

It was a mistake,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said (via Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN.com). “This guy is a better player than the 54th pick in the draft, but time will tell. I think the Bills did a hell of a job and I’m happy he’s there.”

For now, Epenesa will play behind bookends Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison (he may also see some extra snaps on the defensive line if Ed Oliver‘s Saturday arrest keeps him off the field in the fall). In the not-too-distant-future, the Bills see Epenesa as a starter who can make a difference on the edge and even feature as a 3-technique tackle in certain packages. Epenesa is disappointed about being left hanging on the phone last month, but he says he’ll use that as extra motivation on his NFL journey.

I feel like I always try to play with a chip on my shoulder and give myself a little extra motivation. I was number 54; there were 53 people picked in front of me,” Epenesa said. “Yeah, it gets me fired up and I want to be able to go out there and prove to people that they shouldn’t have doubted [me].

Here’s more from the AFC East:

  • Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is out of his walking boot, according to NFL.com’s Mike Giardi (on Twitter). Sanu joined the Patriots via midseason trade with the Falcons last year, but an ankle injury in his third game with New England hampered him throughout the year. The veteran went under the knife earlier this year and now appears to be on track for a healthy return. Sanu is under contract for one more season at $6.5MM, a reasonable sum considering his ability. In theory, they could cut him, but it would be a surprise since they gave up a second-round pick for him less than a year ago.
  • The Jets have serious interest in free agent cornerback Logan Ryan, but as of late last week, they have not put a formal offer on the table for him, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY hears. Meanwhile, the rival Dolphins may be a surprise suitor for his services. For his part, Ryan says he’d be down to join Gang Green…or any NFL team besides the Titans.

Bills Sign A.J. Epenesa, Jake Fromm

On Friday, the Bills agreed to terms with three of their picks from the 2020 NFL Draft. Second-round edge rusher A.J. Epenesa, fourth-round receiver Gabriel Davis, and fifth-round quarterback Jake Fromm are all under contract, per a club announcement. 

Epenesa was viewed as a first-round prospect, up until a shaky showing at the combine. There, the Iowa product ran a slower-than-expected 5.04-second 40-yard dash and lacked athleticism at 275 pounds. Still, he’s coming off of double-digit sacks in back-to-back seasons and also profiles as a solid defender against the run.

Fromm also saw his stock slip. At one point in time, evaluators said he’d be the No. 1 overall pick. Then, last year happened – the Georgia QB completed just 60.8% of his passes and most scouts now see him as a solid backup type. That’ll be his role in Buffalo, where he’ll sit behind Josh Allen.

With this trio officially in the fold, the Bills’ only remaining straggler is third-round running back Zack Moss. Here’s the full rundown of their draft class, via PFR’s team-by-team tracker:

2-54: AJ Epenesa, DE (Iowa): Signed
3-86: Zack Moss, RB (Utah)
4-128: Gabriel Davis, WR (UCF): Signed
5-167: Jake Fromm, QB (Georgia): Signed
6-188: Tyler Bass, K (Georgia Southern): Signed
6-207: Isaiah Hodgins, WR (Oregon State): Signed
7-239: Dane Jackson, CB (Pittsburgh): Signed

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Notes: Lawrence, Saints, LBs

Carolina may end up losing Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen, Trai Turner, Dontari Poe, James Bradberry, Mario Addison and perhaps Cam Newton this offseason. Rebuild vibes are certainly coming out of Panthers headquarters, and many around the league expect this to be the team that times its rebuild/tanks for Trevor Lawrence, Matt Miller of Bleacher Report notes. The Clemson phenom has been on NFL radars pretty much since he debuted as a true freshman in 2018, and the much-hyped quarterback will be eligible for the 2021 draft. The Panthers are already believed to be high on Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields — passers who could go Nos. 1-2 next year — and have Matt Rhule signed to a seven-year contract. This would add up to a rebuild commencing, which will make Carolina’s decision at No. 7 this year overall more interesting.

Here is the latest from the draft world, shifting first to the Saints:

  • Since Michael Thomas has emerged as an All-Pro talent, the Saints have been unable to generate much consistency from any of his supporting-cast receivers. A “strong campaign” has emerged within the organization to find a complementary wideout to pair with Thomas, Miller adds. Considering the Saints’ cap situation — barely $9MM in space before the latest Drew Brees re-up — said addition would likely come in the early rounds of this loaded receiver draft. Miller’s latest mock has the Saints taking Clemson deep threat Tee Higgins, but a number of wideouts could be in play for New Orleans at No. 24.
  • A shaky Combine showing has defensive end A.J. Epenesa‘s stock declining, Vic Tafur of The Athletic tweets. Some teams have expressed concern about the Iowa product’s showing, which included a 5.04-second 40-yard dash — at 275 pounds — and limited athleticism during the drills. Epenesa declared for the draft after his junior year with the Hawkeyes, and he recorded double-digit sacks in back-to-back seasons. ESPN’s Todd McShay still has Epenesa as a late-first-round pick, citing his run-defending ability and potential as a power rusher.
  • Linebackers Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen suffered injuries at the Combine, but both appear on track to recover fairly soon. Both ‘backers sustained the setbacks during their respective second 40 attempts. Queen suffered merely a tweaked hamstring, while Murray also appears to have dodged a serious hamstring injury (Twitter links via Miller and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). Queen and Murray are expected to be first- or second-round selections.

Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa Enters Draft

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa is going pro. On Tuesday, the top pass rusher announced that he’ll skip his senior season and enter the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Epenesa is widely projected to be a first-round pick and could very well land in the Top 10. Ohio State’s Chase Young ranks as everyone’s top edge rusher, but after that, Epenesa figures to be the second defensive end taken in April.

Epenesa boasts serious power and block-shedding ability at 6’6″ and 280 pounds. This year, he notched 11.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss, cementing his status as one of the best at his position.

The Buccaneers, who pick at No. 14 overall, could represent Epenesa’s floor. Epenesa could help the Bucs replace Shaquil Barrett if he signs a lucrative free agent deal elsewhere. Or, better yet, the Bucs could retain Barrett and slot Epenesa in at the other bookend to bolster their pass rush.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Rumors: Tua, Burrow, Fromm, Iowa

Tua Tagovailoa is not expected to return to Alabama to rebuild his stock, but said stock has taken a hit thanks to the severe hip injury he suffered last weekend. The junior Crimson Tide star can be downgraded to the No. 3 quarterback in next year’s class, per ESPN.com’s Todd McShay, who has LSU’s Joe Burrow and Oregon’s Justin Herbert ranked ahead of Tagovailoa.

If he could’ve finished healthy, I think he would’ve been the first to go, so I do think it affects things, because there’s not a safe one now,” an AFC college scouting director told SI.com’s Albert Breer. “He was the safe one—he’s gonna be smart, accurate; he’s won at a high level, been on the big stage. Now, there’s not a safe one.

Both Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz were top-two overall selections despite significant injuries occurring in their final college seasons, but the nature of Tagovailoa’s setback likely stands to ding his stock a bit more.

Here is the latest surrounding the next crop of draft-eligible prospects:

  • While Tagovailoa and Herbert were viewed as the frontrunners to be the first quarterback taken in 2020, Burrow has now ascended to the favorite to land in that position, Breer hears. The second-year LSU starter is a Heisman Trophy candidate, having throw 38 touchdown passes as a senior. Though the former Ohio State backup was not previously on the first-round radar after an unremarkable junior season, his production has swayed NFL execs this year.
  • McShay rated Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm as a second-tier quarterback prospect, and Breer adds some scouts expect the third-year Bulldogs starter to return for his senior season. Fromm plays in a run-first system, and scouts view him as more of an intangibles-geared prospect than one that will dazzle evaluators with physical ability, per Breer.
  • Herbert, however, does possess those athletic traits, and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller would be surprised if the Ducks senior falls out of the top five next year. The Dolphins were high on Herbert last year, and NFL GMs were trekking to some of his junior-season games. Tagovailoa’s injury stands to benefit the 6-foot-6 Herbert, Miller adds, as the former was previously on track to be taken ahead of the Pac-12 standout.
  • Good news for Iowa fans. First-round tackle and defensive end prospects Tristan Wirfs and defensive end A.J. Epenesa are as of now expected to return to school for their senior seasons, Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com notes. Wirfs is viewed as one of the top tackles in the nation, with the 6-6, 280-pound Epenesa having totaled 22.5 sacks in his Hawkeyes tenure.