It is so natural to compare NFL Draft prospects to previous years prospects, current NFL players or even stars from yesteryear. And while sometimes your comparing players just to do it, sometimes there is such a natural fit that it is a bit erie. That is the case here with Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa and last year’s second overall pick Nick Bosa. Here we take a look at how the two defensive ends compare to each other and what AJ Epenesa NFL Draft future may hold.
How AJ Epenesa and Nick Bosa are Similar
Most of the time when you compare a prospect to someone else it may be the way they play the game or how you see them translating to the NFL. And while there is some of those same traits there are many little similarities about the two. Not only are AJ Epenesa and Nick Bosa both defensive ends at Big 10 Schools but they were also highly touted 5 Star recruits coming out of high school who followed a family member to their school. We all know that Nick followed brother Joey to Ohio State, but AJ followed his dad Eppy’s footsteps in going to Iowa.
Sitting and Waiting
What is also unique about this comparison is that both Nick Bosa and AJ Epenesa had wait till their junior year before cracking the starting lineup. Famously Nick Bosa was in a defensive end group that including Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes (also Chase Young) and despite being the more talented player Bosa sat behind the upperclassmen and contributing when he got his chance to come in and play. The same thing has been happening with the Hawkeyes as AJ Epenesa had been sitting behind Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson despite being the better player than both. Neither Bosa or Epenesa complained but instead learned from their older teammates and made the most of their time on the field.
How Epenesa Wins
The first thing you notice when watching AJ Epenesa is that not only is he big (6’5 277lbs) but he moves well for that size with a good combination of speed, quickness and agility. Epenesa is able to use this athletic to his advantage both against the run and the pass. Whether it is using his burst and speed to attack the edge and bend the edge or his ability to stop and quickly redirect he makes it tough on opposing offensive tackles. Epenesa uses the same athletic ability against the run as he is able to get off blocks while moving laterally.
While Epenesa’s athletic ability stands out, what really impresses me is his hand usage. Against the run he’s able to extend and hold the point of attack but along with strong hands and quick lateral agility he’s able to shed blocks and go get the ball carrier. As pass rusher you can tell he’s been working and developing his craft as Epenesa shows a variety of pass rushing moves. In the above clip Epenesa uses a lateral cut and club to get past the offensive lineman while he’s also shown a rip move that works well with his power he generates and also a swat type move that allows him to keep the lineman’s hands off of him. This hand usage and a variety of it is something you don’t normally see out of college pass rushers, let alone ones with zero starts under their belt.
AJ Epenesa Outlook
Sharing so many qualities with Nick Bosa who went 2nd overall it’s only natural to thing that Epenesa has that opportunity too. And he does. Much like Bosa, Epenesa likely blow you away with huge numbers at the Scouting Combine but his numbers will be good enough to go with his refined technique. All eyes will be on Epenesa as he enters his first year as a starter to see what type of production he can put up. But if you compare his stats to Bosa at the same stage in his career you’ll see that Epenesa has more sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles than Bosa had and he’s done with with less starts. At this rate Epenesa may not be the second pick in the draft, but he seems like a lock of a top 10 pick.