Falcons Draft Profile: A.J. Epenesa

cfp181123050 nebraska at iowa

Epenesa should be a prospect the Falcons focus on more so than others, and there are several reasons as to why. First, the defensive line needs an immediate starter. Epenesa could be an impact player from day one, replacing Vic Beasley. Second, the defense showed promise in the last half of the season but needs to be more consistent. With his motor and technical savviness, Epenesa can both rush the passer and defend against the run. Third, the defense needs to be able to generate pressure with four down linemen in order to play the aggressive style of coverage on the backend Dan Quinn prefers. Epenesa already possesses a unique combination of hand usage, rush intelligence, and technique that enables him to have an effective plan when rushing the passer.

Since Epenesa doesn’t have the quick-twitch or bend to get to the quarterback, he uses his tactical skillset instead. His 11.5 sacks in 2019 were from his first season as a full-time starter. Strong at the point of attack, Epenesa’s length and heavy hands overwhelm offensive tackles. With skillful hand usage and his naturally heavy hands, he enjoys an array of pass-rushing moves, including a deadly push-pull. Epenesa runs under his inside hand incase an offensive tackle over sets, leaving him vulnerable for a lift and dump. He uses both a stab and power chop and a two-hand swipe to trim the edge.

Epenesa is a versatile player. He is capable of kicking inside on obvious pass-rushing situations, making room for another sack artist on the field. His ability to convert speed to power allows him to put stress on the tackle attempting to maintain good pocket width. He plays right through blockers, but that doesn’t mean he can’t set the edge. Epenesa isn’t easily moved off his spot in these situations. In fact, his ability to squeeze can make gaps disappear.

Coming out of Clemson, Vic Beasley was highly touted as a skilled pass rusher. With incredible natural athleticism and quickness, he was not only supposed to be an immediate starter but a significant threat on passing downs. His knocks were his size and inability to effectively defend against the run, often getting washed out in those situations.

Epenesa is as highly peddled as Beasley was but for opposite reasons. Beasley was coveted for his athletic ability, while his counterpart is coveted for his ability to control his momentum, play with leverage, and thrive in close quarters. Epenesa’s ceiling — in some eyes — has a cap due to his lack of athletic ability. However, he is a more sure-fire product than Beasley because, unlike Beasley, he must continuously refine his technical pass rush in order to ascend. Epenesa can start right away and has the upside to become a pillar of a defensive unit.

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