What the Bills Need:
One of the key spots the Bills need to figure out this offseason is their defensive end position. The sack and pressure production were decent with the rotation of guys they had, but there’s a lingering need for a premier edge threat that can play all three downs. A.J. Epenesa out of Iowa could be the answer this team is looking for. He offers some versatility and was a stout edge defender.
During his time at Iowa, Epenesa was asked to play both stand up end and with his hand in the dirt. He progressively increased his season sack total every year and had two double-digit seasons. He was sometimes asked to slide down and play the 3-tech during smaller sets which is impressive for a guy with such an athletic frame. He offers versatility and would definitely fit into a 4-3 defensive scheme at the next level.
What He Does Well:
One of the traits that makes Epenesa such an intriguing prospect is the way he uses his hands. They’re not perfect yet, but for being so big and powerful he has good hand fighting skills. He knows how to keep separation when stopping the run and also fight when rushing the pass.
This complements his pass rush repertoire very well. He has a variety of moves that include a spin, push pull, stab-rip, and a strong-arm technique, which he does well with his long arms.
He has a quick first step off the line that accommodates his high motor. He is definitely a power rushing type of prospect who has some finesse in his game to go along with it.
His energy on third also caught my eye. He seems to really kick it up a notch and bring some extra speed off the edge when he knows it’s a passing down. The speed he displayed was impressive because he is considered to be a heavier defensive end prospect.
What He Needs to Improve On:
One of the biggest traits that worries me about Epenesa is his bending ability when rushing the edge. He does not consistently show the flexibility I would want in a premier edge threat, and that is a factor that has limited a lot of promising prospects. He does not have overbearing strength for the next level to compensate for this lack of flexibility, so he will either have to correct his technique or maybe change his body composition a little bit to gain some hip flexibility.
The only other trait Epenesa would need to improve on is his rush discipline. During film study, I noticed he sometimes gets upfield a little too much which can open up run lanes. The Bills’ defense is built upon discipline and doing your job, so I’m sure the coaching staff can correct this problem.
It’ll be interesting to see how Beane plans on attacking the draft. We won’t know more until free agency is over. The Bills’ front office might decide to be a big spender and go grab an already established edge threat who is hitting the market in March. If it’s through the draft, we might see Beane make a move to establish the pass rush first. If Epenesa is there at 22, he would most likely be the best option available and fill a big need for the team. Epenesa offers a combination of power and finesse pass-rush ability and is a great run stopper who can dominate the edge.