A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
Let’s take a look at this pick in 3 parts: the Team, the Pick, and the Player.
In summary, the Atlanta Falcons - despite a losing record - actually finished the season strong against some quality opponents, and still boast a potent offense with a 1st Round Pick at literally every position.
So when it came time to think about the pick, the likely scenario involved taking a player on defense. I created a MegaBoard, consisting of Big Boards from across the web to narrow down my top choices based on who was still available:
My reasoning in a few bullet points:
- Believe it or not, I did consider an RB here (I don’t trust Gurley’s knees and a dynamic, young RB is likely the last missing piece for this offense), but there’s no Zeke/Barkley in this draft and pick 16 was too rich for these RBs.
- I also strongly considered both CBs for this pick - Atlanta has a need with Desmond Trufant leaving in Free Agency. However, I took the approach that a Premier EDGE player > Premier CB with everything else being similar.
- I ultimately decided on A.J. Epenesa because A) he was the BPA on my MegaBoard, B) he played a premier position and filled a need, C) he could contribute right away thanks to his versatility, and D) after getting burned by two previous 1st round DE selections, in some ways he was the “safest” pick left (being the only player without a ranking outside the top 32). I know his stock dropped in some eyes after the combine, but the combine was never going to be his strong suit.
Ht/Wt: 6’6” / 280 lbs
Strengths: plays with power (has a strong bull rush) and with good hand technique; able to set the edge; has inside/outside rush versatility
Weaknesses: not athletic in the burst/bend sense - not going to win with speed rushes around the edge.
NFL Comp: Trey Flowers
While his limited athleticism was always going to show up at the Combine, the fact is that Epenesa has been a very productive player, collecting 26.5 sacks, 36 TFL, and 9 forced fumbles over 37 games—and he’s still only 21 years old. The “ascending” label seems to show up with fellow draft prospect K’lavon Chaisson, but the reality is that Epenesa is far from a finished product, yet already brings more technical refinement to his game.
What I love about his fit with the Atlanta D-Line is that, because he’s a bigger player at 6’6”, 280lbs, he also has the ability to kick inside. Which means that, as a rookie, while he’d likely earn the 3rd DE spot behind Dante Fowler Jr. and Takk McKinley, on 3rd down you could move him inside and end up with a D-Line featuring Fowler, Epenesa, Grady Jarrett & McKinley.
For a team with only 28 sacks in 2019, adding an interior pash rush in the division with arguably the least mobile QBs (Brees, Brady & Bridgewater) could pay huge dividends. For example, one of the keys to the Vikings’ defeat of the Saints in the playoffs was constantly harassing Brees up the middle:
”...One of the key schematic alterations came from studying film of the Week 10 game in which the Falcons beat the Saints 26-9 in New Orleans. Atlanta defensive tackle Grady Jarrett led Atlanta with 2.5 sacks in that game, and Hunter said the Vikings saw a chance to make Brees uncomfortable by creating interior pressure, as opposed to having Hunter and Griffen only rush the Saints’ two stellar tackles, Ramczyk and Armstead.”
Objective #1 is always to win your division. Epenesa can clearly help the Falcons do that.
Here he is lined up at DT. Watch him knife past the left guard and get straight to the QB:
And then against Nebraska on a key 3rd down, with the score tied and under 4 min to play, he uses a devastating push/pull move on the left guard to get to the QB:
But before I get carried away with his interior pass rush—which is an exciting part of his game—let’s not forget that he’s still a EDGE rusher and can get to the QB from a traditional 4-3 DE spot.
Here against Michigan he uses his hands and body control to get around the LT and take down Shea Patterson:
Against Penn State, just a straight bull rush and he buries Sean Clifford:
And finally, even though he’s not considered “bendy”, here against USC LT Austin Jackson (TheDraftNetwork’s 8th rated OT in the draft, 68th prospect overall), he’s able to use his hands to get around the edge and swipe the ball away:
In summary, A.J. Epenesa is a player ready to contribute now to a Falcons team that, thanks to its offense, is also looking to win now. But at 21 years old, he’s still an ascending player who should help anchor the defensive line for years to come. Interestingly enough, where Epenesa excels is where previous underwhelming 1st Round DEs Vic Beasley & Takk McKinley struggled (Vic Beasley won with athleticism and projected as a 3-4 OLB; Takk McKinley won with speed & effort and also projected as a 3-4 OLB). Here’s where Atlanta gets it right with a versatile, technically sound player who is a better fit in the 4-3.
Do you approve of this pick?
This poll is closed
2020 BGN Mock Draft Order
1) Bengals (grantspectations): QB Joe Burrow
2) Washington (ablesser88): EDGE Chase Young
3) Lions (CMG97): CB Jeff Okudah
4) Giants (selgae aihpledalihp): LB Isaiah Simmons
5) Dolphins (dceagles): WR CeeDee Lamb
6) Chargers (dapeltz13): QB Tua Tagovailoa
7) Panthers (wardbell92): DT Derrick Brown
8) Cardinals (drc242): OT Mekhi Becton
9) Jaguars (Palaniappan K M): OT Tristan Wirfs
10) Browns (WentzAndFolesFan): WR Jerry Jeudy
11) Jets (Dr_Horrible): OT Jedrick Wills
12) Raiders (Phillysolo): WR Henry Ruggs III
13) 49ers (eagles0132): OT Andrew Thomas
14) Buccaneers (BuckeyedEagles): DT Javon Kinlaw
15) Broncos (J. Wil): S Xavier McKinney
16) Falcons (Kephas): EDGE A.J. Epenesa
17) Cowboys (PhillyBirdGang):
18) Dolphins (dshelton5):
19) Raiders (fredhugo):
20) Jaguars (ItownBallers22)
21) Eagles (20Safety_Hazards)
22) Vikings (Kramerpoo):
23) Patriots (Phoenix X Minimus)
24) Saints (big DUB):
25) Vikings (MrW254):
26) Dolphins (SemperFilly):
27) Seahawks (mattywils):
28) Ravens (Dirtybirdy47):
29) Titans (mr_england):
30) Packers (Nishant R SambhiReddy):
31) 49ers (Fly Like An Eagle):
32) Chiefs (Leo Bedio):
Now it’s time for you to vote for who YOU think the Falcons should pick in the 2020 BGN Community Consensus Mock Draft.
Who should the Falcons draft at No. 16?
This poll is closed
2020 BGN Community Consensus Mock Draft
1) Bengals: QB Joe Burrow
2) Washington: EDGE Chase Young
3) Lions: CB Jeff Okudah
4) Giants: LB Isaiah Simmons
5) Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa
6) Chargers: QB Justin Herbert
7) Panthers: DT Derrick Brown
8) Cardinals: OT Mekhi Becton
9) Jaguars: OT Tristan Wirfs
10) Browns: OT Andrew Thomas
11) Jets: OT Jedrick Wills
12) Raiders: WR CeeDee Lamb
13) 49ers: WR Jerry Jeudy
14) Buccaneers: DT Javon Kinlaw
15) Broncos: WR Henry Ruggs III