Iowa Star A.J. Epenesa Declares for 2020 NFL Draft, Forgoes Senior Season

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2020

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) warms up before a game against Northwestern an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/David Banks)
David Banks/Associated Press

Edge-rushers seemingly become more important with each passing year in the NFL, and one of college football's best is headed to the pro ranks.

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end A.J. Epenesa declared for the 2020 NFL draft Tuesday, making the announcement on his Instagram account (h/t The Draft Network's Jordan Reid):

Jordan Reid @JReidNFL

Per his IG, Iowa EDGE rusher A.J. Epenesa officially enters his name into the 2020 #NFLDraft https://t.co/TM16bqadPu https://t.co/0rQnP87wOp

Epenesa appeared destined for the NFL before he even reached college. He arrived at Iowa as a 5-star recruit and the No. 1 strong-side defensive end in the class of 2017, per 247Sports' composite rankings, with sky-high expectations for a program that isn't always in the running for 5-star players.

He made an immediate impact with 4.5 sacks as a freshman but made an NFL-like leap from his first to second year in the Big Ten.

The Illinois native finished his sophomore season as an All-Big Ten selection with 16.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and a touchdown, cementing his spot on the NFL radar. He remained a force in his final season with 32 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Iowa On BTN @IowaOnBTN

A.J. Epenesa had one of those have-a-day kind of days in Week 12. Relive the @HawkeyeFootball star DE's big-time plays below. https://t.co/x8TZjq4kPO

The Big Ten named him Defensive Player of the Week during a November win over previously undefeated Minnesota when he finished with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. His combination of power and athleticism was on full display, and it wasn't difficult to envision the 6'6" and 280-pound pass-rusher could wreck opposing game plans at the next level.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Epenesa as the No. 10 overall player and No. 2 edge-rusher behind only Ohio State's Chase Young on his latest big board. Miller also deemed Epenesa as having the best power among all edge-rushers.

That power allows the Iowa product to bull-rush his way to the quarterback and break free of blocks to help stuff the rushing attack. He also has solid burst for his size and is a threat to knock the ball loose with every sack.

Epenesa figures to slide into a pass-rush rotation right away and make quarterbacks uncomfortable on passing downs. He should hear his name called in the first round come draft day.