The Bills sat out the first night of the draft after trading their first-round pick to the Vikings for Stefon Diggs and were still able to get a top talent in round two by taking Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa with the 54th overall pick of the NFL Draft.
Epenesa was projected to be a first-round pick in many mock drafts. At 6’5″, 275 pounds, his 5.04 40-yard dash time could have contributed to his fall.
While he didn’t seem a guy overly frustrated with his slide while talking on a Zoom call with the Western New York media, he is still human.
“I want to prove to people that they shouldn’t have doubted me,” he said. “I knew my time would come. It was a little disappointing. All I needed was one opportunity.”
Bills GM Brandon Beane said during another Zoom call with Bills media that one of the first things he said to Epenesa after making the pick was not knowing why he fell so far.
“I think people had him much higher than he went,” Beane said. “I think the 40 time (hurt him). Certain people, they just have parameters. They’re going to drop the value if they don’t meet certain measurables. Call me crazy, but watching the film… I rely more on that.”
Epenesa is a junior from the Hawkeyes, who recorded 10 or more sacks his final two years in college. He had 10.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2018 and 11.5 in 2019. He forced four fumbles each of those seasons.
He and Josh Allen actually have already met. Sort of.
As a freshman, Epenesa recorded his first career college sack against Allen when the Bills QB was playing for Wyoming. He said no sack since has been tougher to corral.
“(Allen) was REALLY hard to bring down,” he said.
Epenesa was named a second-team AP All-American last season and was first-team all-conference.
The Bills were able to draft for talent and need with their first pick. With Shaq Lawson leaving for the Dolphins in the free agency, the Bills were able to potentially replace some of his pass-rushing prowess and add another body to their defensive line unit.
Beane said he told Epenesa that Buffalo is a lot like Iowa and that he should fit right in.
“He’s not going to win the sexy appeal. I get that, but we’re Buffalo and nobody thinks there’s anything sexy about Buffalo, so he’s going to fit us well,” Beane said. “He’s just a good ol’ Iowa boy.”
Epenesa says he tries to pattern his game after Texans star J.J. Watt. Both are players that run a little bigger than your average edge rusher and both can be effective from the tackle spot or at end.
“Mimicking something like that is a good thing to chase,” he said.
Epenesa also adds youth to a group filled with veterans, with Trent Murphy (29), Jerry Hughes (31), and Mario Addison (32) among the Bills defensive ends on the roster.
Epenesa said more than once he’s excited about joining the Bills and their program. He admitted to not knowing much about Buffalo or watching much NFL football lately, but he still knows where this Buffalo team is headed.
“It’s building up to something great and I just want to contribute,” he said. “It’s about bringing W’s home to Buffalo and that’s what I want to do.”