New York Jets must stay away from A.J. Epenesa in the 2020 NFL Draft
By Justin Fried
The New York Jets would be wise to stay away from Iowa defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa in the 2020 NFL Draft despite rumors of possible interest.
The New York Jets will enter the 2020 NFL Draft this season with a few key positions of need in mind. And in particular, they will likely look to address those positions in the first round of the draft.
The offensive line remains a top priority for the team but just behind that, the team will absolutely look to upgrade at wide receiver, cornerback, and at edge rusher. In theory, all could be targets in Round 1, but availability will determine what they could do.
Simply put, it’s most likely we see the Jets target an offensive lineman or wide receiver early on due to the quantity of Round 1 options available.
However, we’ve seen the Jets ignore pressing needs in favor of a “best player available” approach countless times in recent years. And in accordance, there have been numerous mock drafts and rumblings that the Jets could do that yet again this year.
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That absolutely cannot be the case.
One player, in particular, has been mocked to the Jets with others reporting interest from Gang Green’s front office. That player is Iowa defensive lineman/edge rusher A.J. Epenesa.
In most cases, Epenesa is listed as an EDGE as that’s where he played at Iowa which makes this seem like an acceptable pick. After all, edge rusher has been one of the Jets’ biggest needs for years and the Iowa product is highly-regarded by NFL scouts.
However, a deeper dive reveals why this pick would be an absolute mistake.
Epenesa is listed at around 6-foot-6, 280 pounds making him an ideal fit as a 4-3 defensive end. The Jets mixed up a number of their schemes in 2019 under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams but still technically play in a base 3-4.
But they barely played in their base formation and instead played in the nickel more than 70 percent of the time. And in most nickel formations, the Jets rolled with two defensive linemen and four linebackers (two off-ball, and two outside linebackers/edge rushers).
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At 280 pounds, Epenesa is significantly larger than pretty much any 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL and is actually closer in size to someone who could fill an interior defensive lineman role.
The best comparison currently on the roster is 2019 undrafted rookie Kyle Phillips who checks in at 6-foot-4, 277 pounds. That’s smaller than Epenesa, yet Phillips played more as an interior defensive lineman in 2019 than he did as a stand-up edge rusher.
A more historical comparison could be former failed first-round pick Quinton Coples. Coples was drafted as an interior defensive lineman before the team moved him outside following the acquisition of Sheldon Richardson.
Unsurprisingly, Coples failed as he wasn’t athletic or quick enough to play a stand-up edge rusher role. This isn’t to say that Epenesa can’t do it, but it certainly wouldn’t be his best fit.
The Jets could always ask him to drop weight, but that experiment hasn’t always worked with players in the past.
Regardless, what sense does it make to draft the “best player available” if he would need to change his frame to fit the team’s scheme?
The Jets should be able to draft for need in the first round without having to reach this year as it’s highly unlikely all four top offensive tackles and the top two or three receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft will be gone by the time they pick at No. 11.
Epenesa may be a solid prospect with a high floor, but he makes little sense for the Jets.