Bills 2020 draft class rookie season review and expectations for year 2: DE A.J. Epenesa


Buffalo Bills defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa (57) is shown during NFL football practice Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Even though the Bills drafted Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham this year with back-to-back picks, that doesn’t mean they’re down on A.J. Epenesa he looks to play an even bigger role this season.

Epenesa had an up and down rookie season and that’s not surprising for a few reasons. He was trying to adjust to life in the NFL during a pandemic and dealing with the virtual offseason. As a rookie, the zoom meetings and learning through a screen only goes so far. Head coach Sean McDermott even said at one point this offseason that probably factored into his slow start.

Then there’s Epenesa’s weight. He had to slim down from what he played at during his time at Iowa but ended up actually losing too much weight for when the 2020 season started. But now he’s almost back to the ideal size for what the Bills need him to do.

“He’s in great shape right now,” McDermott said in May.

“I mean he looks as good as I’ve seen him look and credit to him for being here. He’s been here most of the offseason.”

Epenesa played in 14 games last year and had one start. He ended with 14 tackles (3 for loss) and one sack. He played just 27% of the defensive snaps and now looks to make an even bigger impact in year two.

“He’s in a great spot right now. He’s in shape and he’s on track to have himself ready to go for training camp so what I’ve seen to this point is very encouraging,” McDermott explained.

Even though Epenesa’s draft stock fell after an unimpressive combine outing, there were still high expectations for him since at one point, he was projected as a first-round pick. The Bills got lucky when Epenesa fell to them in the second round since they didn’t have a first-round pick in 2020 after trading for Stefon Diggs.

And now that he’s more familiar with the system and is at a more ideal playing weight, it’s reasonable to expect significant improvement from Epenesa in year two.

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