Name: A.J. Epenesa
Position: Defensive end
40-yard dash: 5.04
20-yard shuttle: 4.46
View photos of NFL prospect A.J. Epenesa.
How he fits: The Lions struggled to consistently rush opposing passers last season. Epenesa, a big, physical pass rusher, recoded back-to-back double digit sack seasons for the Hawkeyes in 2018 and 2019.
He is stout on the edge and effective setting the edge in the run game. As a pass rusher, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss with four forced fumbles in 2019. He can play end in a 4-3 or 3-4, so he's scheme versatile. Some analysts think he can also bump inside and rush from the three-technique. He's not as gifted an athlete as some of the other edge rushers in this class, but Espenesa wins with his strength and with his hands.
Outside of Trey Flowers, the Lions didn't get much production from their group of defensive ends. Romeo Okwara had just 28 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season on the heels of a 7.5-sack performance in 2018.
The Lions could certainly use more talent and depth behind Flowers at defensive end.
Key observations: Epenesa was a legacy player at Iowa, following his father, Eppy. He scored over 1,000 career points in basketball and won back-to-back state discus titles in high school.
Pro Football Focus had Epenesa with more than 50 quarterback pressures last season, more than double any other Hawkeye.
What they had to say about him: "A one-year starter at Iowa, Epenesa played right defensive end in defensive coordinator Phil Parker's 4-2-5 base scheme, becoming the first Hawkeyes' player with back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks since Matt Roth. The first five-star recruit to sign with Iowa since Tony Moeaki, he averaged less than 50 percent of snaps his first two years before becoming a full-time starter (90.1 percent snaps) in 2019.
"Epenesa is a downhill force player with the explosive hands and flexible body type that help him create rush lanes. While he is able to create knockback, he can be slowed once engaged and needs to improve his counter measures. Overall, Epenesa doesn't win with pure speed or quick twitch, but his explosive length, heavy hands and savvy make him a productive power rusher and reliable run defender (stylistically similar to Frank Clark), projecting as an NFL starter with Pro Bowl upside." —Dane Brugler, The Athletic
How he stacks up: Epenesa comes in at No. 26 on Daniel Jeremiah's list of the Top 50 prospects in this class.
He doesn't make the cut on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s Top 25 Big Board, but Kiper does list Epenesa as the second best defensive end available in the draft after Ohio State's Chase Young.
Scouts Inc. lists Epenesa as the No. 23 overall prospect and the third best defensive end behind Young and LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson.
What he had to say: "I'm confident that my best abilities are in the power rush, just using length and using speed and kind of combining it together to move people backwards and make the quarterback uncomfortable by getting in his face," Epenesa said at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.