Baltimore Ravens scouting reports: A.J. Epenesa the monster
The edge rusher position isn’t particularly deep in the 2020 NFL Draft, but the Baltimore Ravens may be able to scoop up one of its studs in A.J. Epenesa.
There aren’t many pass rushers in the 2020 NFL Draft class that can match A.J. Epenesa’s brute strength off the line. While he may not have sudden explosiveness and speed, Epenesa has a helluva punch and bullrush to overwhelm opposing offensive linemen. Because of that, Epenesa lit up the box score.
Epenesa played a part-time role with the Iowa Hawkeyes over his first two seasons before becoming a full-time player in 2019. Teams recognized his disruptive ability and double-teamed him whenever possible. Despite a slow start to the season, Epenesa closed 2019 hot.
Notable stats for A.J. Epenesa (full stats here) 2017-2019
- Back-to-back double-digit sack seasons (10.5 in 2018, 11.5 in 2019)
- Eight forced fumbles over last two seasons
- 26.5 career sacks
- Seven sacks over last four-games in 2019
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- Massive build (6’5″ 275-lbs.) with long arms (34 1/2″) and big hands (10 1/8″)
- Productive throughout his career at Iowa despite playing a part-time role in first two seasons
- Remained productive in 2019 while facing double-teams
- Heavy hands; hits offensive linemen like a UFC fighter
- Can rip offensive linemen off of him with his brute strength
- Nasty bullrush; again, brute strength is just too much to handle
- Pressure, pressure, pressure; even when he’s not getting sacks he’s collapsing the pocket
- Despite build, he’s an awkward fit at the next level; too big to be an edge rusher, too small to be an interior defensive lineman
- Underwhelming NFL Combine performance has us wondering about his overall athleticism
- One-dimensional pass rusher without speed to compliment power; stiff and doesn’t have a lot of bend to his game
- Struggles to disengage if his punch doesn’t land; timing needs improvement
Fit with the Ravens:
A.J. Epenesa is an interesting fit for the Baltimore Ravens. If not for the signing of Calais Campbell he’d be the starting 5-tech defensive end. Epenesa could still thrive in a part-time role, something he did at Iowa, but the Ravens may be able to get creative with him.
Baltimore has utilized what’s known as the “elephant rusher” with guys like Pernell McPhee and Za’Darius Smith. “Elephant rushers” are typically big-bodied guys who use their brute strength to compensate for a lack of speed. Epenesa could dominate in this roll with the guys in front of him eating blocks. In one-on-ones, you can forget about trying to stop his bullrush.
Adding A.J. Epenesa is a luxury that the Baltimore Ravens can afford right now. Don Martindale can get innovative with him throughout the front-seven and Epenesa can do what he does best: collapse the pocket and sack the quarterback. There’s a real chance Epenesa is available at 28 overall for the Ravens and he’d be tough to pass up.