Vikings draft profile: Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa
If the cap-strapped Minnesota Vikings are going to contend for an NFC North division title and make a deep playoff run in 2020, they’ll need to draft very, very well.
The good news is general manager Rick Spielman has 12 draft picks to work with and two in the first round alone — Nos. 22 and 25.
In this “Vikings draft profile” series, we’ll look at several options for Minnesota in the first round and analyze their collegiate careers, highlight tape and how they’d fit with the organization.
In this edition we look at Iowa defensive end A. J. Epenesa.
Epenesa is from Glen Carbon, Ill., and came out of Edwardsville High School ranked by 247 Sports as a five-star recruit and the No. 1 strong-side defensive end in the 2017 class. Epenesa contributed right away for the Hawkeyes with 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble as a freshman and was named to the Big Ten’s all-freshmen team by BTN.com.
In 2018, Epenesa finished his sophomore campaign with 37 tackles, 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He started all 13 games at defensive end for Iowa in 2019 and had 11.5 sacks, 49 tackles and four forced fumbles. He was a first-team All-Big Ten player and named a first-team All-American by The Athletic.
40-yard dash: 5.04 seconds
Bench Press: 17 reps
Vertical jump: 32.5 inches
Broad jump: 117.0 inches
3 cone drill: 7.34 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.46 seconds
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
“In the pass rush, Epenesa flashes ability to get after the quarterback. He has a strong bull rush and can ride tackles straight back into the signal-caller. With his strong hands, Epenesa also is dangerous to grab a hold of the tackle and then toss them to the side to get free of his blocker. Once he gets free, Epenesa has a burst to close on the quarterback.” – WalterFootball.com
“I definitely believe Epenesa is worth a first-round pick, even if he isn’t the best athlete testing-wise. He has legit pass-rush moves and a plan that will work on the next level as long as he continues to improve. If he goes in the first round, it will likely be because the team that took him largely ignored the testing stuff and focused on the film, which I personally would encourage.” – SBNation.com
“The size and production should force all evaluators to dial their focus in on what he’s best at rather than any perceived areas of concern. He has average instincts against the run and is a step slow to shed, but he’s strong at the point and he does his job. Epenesa won’t just out-run tackles to the edge, but he’s a skilled rusher whose diversity of attack, skilled hands and unique bull-rushing instincts could help him deliver his college sack production in the pros. He can play end in a 4-3 or 3-4 and could leap from good to great with additional work on technique and explosiveness.” – NFL.com
HOW HE FITS
It is no secret that a strong defensive line is necessary for a good NFL defense and with the departure of Everson Griffen, the Vikings will need to find a replacement to pair alongside Danielle Hunter. Epenesa may not be the best athlete at his position, but his great pass rushing technique and skilled hands make him a high-floor prospect that could contribute early.