ST. LOUIS, MO- It may not be the way he imagined it would happen when AJ Epenesa decided to enter the 2020 Draft earlier this year, but on Friday night, the Edwardsville graduate-turned University of Iowa pass rusher’s NFL dreams were realized when he was taken with the 54th overall pick in the second round by the Buffalo Bills.
Due to the coronavirus, original plans to have the top picks, including Epenesa, revealed in grand fashion in front of thousands on the Las Vegas strip, were scrapped. Picks were announced remotely from the home of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in Bronxville, New York. Epenesa was at his family home in Glen Carbon.
When he first declared, Epenesa was seen as one of the top edge pass rushers available, after Ohio State’s Chase Young. But his NFL Combine workouts were seen by some as disappointing because of his slower 40 yard dash numbers, and his stock appeared to slip as evaluators put together mock drafts. Once the coronavirus public health restrictions were put in place, there were no other opportunities for in-person workouts where he could have improved on those statistics.
Buffalo will be a trendy pick to have a big year in 2020 with Tom Brady’s departure from New England. In Epenesa, the Bills get a first round talent at a second round price.
Epenesa just completed his second straight season as an All-Big Ten first-team performer and earned second-team All-American honors from the Associated Press, Walter Camp, and the AFCA. He had nine sacks in the 2019 regular season, his first as a Hawkeye starter and added 2.5 more in a dominating performance in the San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl against USC.
He had a conference-high of 10.5 sacks as a Sophomore in 2018.
Other players with local ties hoping to hear their names called between now and Saturday include defensive lineman Jordan Elliott (University of Missouri), wide receiver Jeff Thomas (East St. Louis HS) and Tight End Albert Okwuegbunam (Springfield IL/University of Missouri). Kenny Robinson, a safety who played for the now-defunct St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL, is also expected to be taken.