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Buffalo Bills Thursday Thought: The Transformation of A.J. Epenesa

A.J. Epenesa has to transform his body significantly since being drafted by the Buffalo Bills which may explain his slow start in 2020.

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Two weeks ago while on the BF Writer’s Room pregame show, I talked about why I thought Trent Murphy was a healthy scratch and why they kept him on the 53-man roster, to begin with. My reason was that A.J. Epenesa got off to a slow start, mostly due to his change in weight. I mentioned how it seemed that Epenesa had taken off a lot of weight from what he was at Iowa. However, I wanted to dig deeper into this and see if I was correct or just making assumptions. This week’s Thursday Thought: The transformation of A.J. Epenesa.

Interestingly there were no articles out about this before. I couldn’t find much information about this, but my eyes told me that Epenesa had looked much slimmer than before. The best way to understand the transformation is to remember what Epenesa looked like in his final season at Iowa. Along with what draft analysts were saying about his game versus what we are seeing now.

In 2019, the Iowa Hawkeyes listed Epenesa at 6’6″ and weighing in at 280 lbs. Truly a “tweener” as he was somewhere between the size of a large defensive end or an undersized defensive tackle. This evaluation seemed to be consistent. Many draft analysts were not sure what position in the NFL Epenesa would play.

For example here is a portion of Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller’s final evaluation of Epenesa after the Bills drafted him No. 54 in the 2019 NFL Draft:

Epenesa gets labeled as a tweener after playing defensive end in the Iowa 4-3 defense, but he has the body of a 3-4 defensive end. “

Miller also compared Epenesa to two 3-4 defensive ends in Cameron Jordan and Soloman Thomas. Again for comparison, Jordan weighs 287 lbs. and Thomas weighs 280 lbs.

However, Epenesa has clearly changed his body. On the Buffalo Bills, 2020 roster Epenesa is listed at 6’6″ and weighs 260 lbs. Not only did the eye test appear to show a slighter Epenesa but on the team’s roster, he’s listed 20 lbs. less than he was in his final season as a Hawkeye.

Below is a picture of Epenesa in 2019 with Iowa and a picture of him currently as a Buffalo Bill.

Epenesa in 2019:

2020 NFL Draft: AJ Epenesa leaving Iowa early for NFL
Credit: Sean M. Haffey – Getty Images

Epenesa in 2020:

Rookie A.J. Epenesa is tasked with learn all four positions along the  defensive line.
Credit: Buffalo Bills

Based on these two photos it seems pretty clear that Epenesa is not the same size he was a season ago. He’s gone from looking not much smaller than an offensive tackle to about the same size as A.J. Klein.

Clearly, Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier saw Epenesa as more of an edge defender rather than lining him up inside. They have played as defensive tackle little if at all this season and had him drop 20 lbs. off of his frame. It’s a transition that may have caused the slow start of Epenesa.

Epenesa not only had to transition to the NFL skillset and learn how to beat NFL tackles, but he also had to change his body in a shortened offseason. Although he hasn’t been putting up the big numbers everyone hoped, there is no question Epenesa has looked better in the second half of the season. It’s taken some time and this transition will continue, but Epenesa has had to adjust a bit more than most rookies. Hopefully, Epenesa now at a lighter weight will grow into the promising player we all hope he can become.