Good quickness to close, but not a fast edge rusher
Needs to refine pass-rushing moves
Limited pass rusher in a 4-3
Gets in trouble when he plays high
Summary: Epenesa was a very good defender for the Hawkeyes over the past three seasons. As a freshman, he flashed with 4.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 15 tackles and one forced fumble. Epenesa showed that he was just scratching the surface, performing even better as a sophomore while recording 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, four passes batted, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 37 tackles.
Epenesa had 49 tackles with 11.5 sacks, three passes batted and four forced fumbles in 2019. He went on a tear in the final month of the 2019 regular season, and finished it off with an impressive multi-sack performance against USC left tackle Austin Jackson in the bowl game. Afterward, Epenesa decided to skip his senior year and enter the 2020 NFL Draft. Epenesa did not impress teams at the NFL Scouting Combine, and they were mildly disappointed in his workout. Epenesa showed that he has some athletic and skill-set limitations for the NFL.
In the pass rush, Epenesa flashes ability to get after the quarterback. He has a strong bull rush and can ride tackles straight back into the signal-caller. With his strong hands, Epenesa also is dangerous to grab a hold of the tackle and then toss them to the side to get free of his blocker. Once he gets free, Epenesa has a burst to close on the quarterback.
Epenesa, however, has serious limitations as a pass-rusher. He is a big lineman who has some serious stiffness and a lack of agility. Those lead to him having some issues with redirecting toward the quarterback and getting turned to the quarterback after his quickness allows him to get upfield. Epenesa is unable to sink his hips to dip underneath tackles, and that could lead to him getting pushed around the pocket by NFL edge blockers. While he is not a slow lumbering lineman, Epenesa is not anything close to a speed demon off the edge. Thus, he is quicker than fast. Epenesa is going to have to beat pro blockers mainly based off his power and physicality. Thus, it would help him to add a club and rip move to go along with his bull rush. Epenesa also can stand to work on his leverage since he gets in trouble when he plays too high.
As a run defender, Epenesa is an asset. He has a strong build with length to set a tough edge at the point of attack. Epenesa can hold his ground in run defense, maintaining his gap and rarely ever getting pushed back. He has the power and good hands to fight off blocks to get in on tackles of ball-carriers. In the ground game, Iowa generally had Epenesa holding his gap rather than trying to shoot the gap and get into the backfield, so that hurt his tackles for a loss numbers, but his solid technique leads to Epenesa entering the pros as a plus run defender.
Numerous team sources say they graded Epenesa in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, although some have him graded in the the third round. Epenesa also has an outside shot of being a late first-round pick. He could play as a left end in a 4-3 to battle right tackles, but his best fit would come as a 3-4 defensive end. His length and strength would make him a good five-technique.
Player Comparison: Derek Wolfe. Epenesa reminds me of Derek Wolfe coming out of Cincinnati. Both are tough at the point of attack to set the edge and are solid run defenders. As pro, I could see Epenesa being like Wolfe as a contributor in the pass rush, but not being an elite sack producer. Wolfe (6-5, 285) and Epenesa are similar size with length. If he's drafted for a 3-4, Epenesa could gain 10 pounds and top out like Wolfe. Wolfe has been a good five-technique during his career and I think Epenesa will be as well.