The hype entering the 2019 season is incredibly real for Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa.
The star defensive end didn’t even start during the 2018 season, and yet put up pretty huge numbers. Last year, he led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks from off the bench.
With a trio of experienced Iowa defensive linemen gone from last year’s team, Epenesa will finally start, and is expected to take on a bigger role. That means adding to his game and becoming a more well-rounded player.
Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer released a new 2020 mock draft, with A.J. Epenesa going No. 6 overall.
Breer likes the Detroit Lions to go with a Hawkeye for the second straight year, after taking tight end T.J. Hockenson in the 2019 first round.
The Big Ten’s sack leader returns as, along with (Ohio State’s Chase) Young, the most fearsome defender in the conference. Because of how Kirk Ferentz runs his program, Epenesa had to wait his turn to start—in 2018, he made first-team all-conference while backing up senior Parker Hesse (who went undrafted and has been moved to tight end by the Titans since). There are a few questions about how Epenesa will play the run in the pros, after splitting time last year. But his tools are off the charts. And so I have the Lions dipping into the Hawkeye well for a second straight year.
Impressively, this isn’t even the most bullish projection wew’ve seen for Epenesa.
In late May, RotoWorld draft analyst Thor Nystrom projected Epenesa as the No. 2 player off the board next year.