As a rookie, defensive end AJ Epenesa did not burst onto the scene in 2020. However, Bleacher Report thinks such a thing could happen this upcoming season.
B/R recently named every NFL team’s “breakout candidate” for next year. Despite his slow start in the pros, Epenesa was the pick for the Bills:
Last year, the Buffalo Bills used a second-round pick on Iowa pass-rusher A.J. Epenesa. While Epenesa wasn’t effective as a rookie—one sack and seven quarterback pressures—a steep learning curve may have been responsible.
As Epenesa becomes more comfortable with the Buffalo system—a normal offseason should help—he should become more effective off the edge. The Bills bolstered their pass rush by drafting Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham, but Epenesa should still be poised for a second-year breakout.
Once a potential first-round talent, Epenesa’s stock draft dropped prior to the 2020 draft because of some poor combine numbers. Eventually the Bills landed him, however, that Round 1 skill was never really put on display.
But B/R is right that there’s reason to believe Epenesa can take a step forward in his second season.
As referenced, COVID-19 made things difficult for everyone last year, let alone a guy like Epenesa who was starting a new career and lifestyle. This upcoming offseason, things will be back to normal which can only help.
Additionally, the Bills no longer have Trent Murphy and those are snaps someone is going to have to take.
Rousseau and Basham could be options, but with Epenesa’s experience and improvement down the stretch in 2020, he could be the better option than the rookies. The Bills will also hope this Epenesa-Rousseau-Basham position battle, of sorts, in training camp, could help bring out the best in all three.