Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa has 2.5 sacks in what might be his final game as a Hawkeye. Hawk Central
A.J. Epenesa didn’t get the first-round stature he desired, but the powerful Iowa defensive end fulfilled his life-long dream Friday by becoming an NFL Draft pick.
Epenesa was snapped up by the Buffalo Bills with the 54th overall selection, the 22nd choice in the second round.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound former Hawkeye was considered one of the top edge rushers in the draft, but he got a little unlucky when the first round become a race to get the top offensive tackles, wide receivers and cornerbacks. Only one defensive end — Ohio State’s Chase Young, who went No. 2 overall to the Washington Redskins — was taken in the first 37 picks.
Then, he kept slipping down the board, into the back half of the second round. According to spotrac.com, the 54th pick is due a four-year deal worth nearly $5.9 million, including a signing bonus of $1.83 million.
Nevertheless, Epenesa now has a professional home, becoming the 72nd draft pick from Iowa in the 21-year Kirk Ferentz era. He joins a distinguished list of former Hawkeyes who were selected in the second round — longtime NFL defenders Bob Sanders and Jonathan Babineaux are among them.
Epenesa played the majority of his snaps as a right-side defensive end in Iowa’s 4-3 scheme that evolves into a 4-2-5 at times. His dominance for three years was a big reason why the Hawkeyes were able to win 27 games and apply plenty of quarterback pressure without blitzing. He amassed 22 sacks over his final two seasons, earning first-team all-Big Ten Conference distinction asboth a sophomore and junior before electing to skip his final year of college eligibility.
"Honestly, it all comes down to one team giving you an opportunity, and that’s all I need," Epenesa told the Register last week. "I need one team to take a shot and an opportunity with me. And they’re going to get what they see. They’re going to get a football player who makes plays and someone who enjoys playing the game."
In Buffalo, Epenesa joins a slew of former Hawkeyes — cornerback Micah Hyde, offensive lineman Ike Boettger and wide receiver Nick Easley included.
Iowa’s first-round NFL Draft picks, Kirk Ferentz era
2003: TE Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts (No. 24 pick)
2004: OL Robert Gallery, Oakland Raiders (No. 2)
2006: LB Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings (No. 17)
2010: OL Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers (No. 23)
2011: DE Adrian Clayborn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 20)
2012: OL Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions (No. 23)
2015: OL Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins (No. 5)
2019: TE T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions (No. 8)
2019: TE Noah Fant, Denver Broncos (No. 20)
2020: OL Tristan Wirfs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 13)