BUFFALO, New York (AP) — The Buffalo Bills selected Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa with the 54th pick in the NFL draft Friday night.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, Epenesa had 11 1/2 sacks and forced four fumbles to earn second-team All-America honors during his junior season last year.
Epenesa’s selection was Buffalo’s first of the draft after the Bills traded four picks, including their first-rounder (22nd overall), to acquire receiver Stefon Diggs from Minnesota last month.
Having addressed many of Buffalo’s immediate needs in free agency and with Diggs’ addition, general manager Brandon Beane approached the draft with the objective of targeting the best player available rather than filling a positional roster spot.
At No. 54, the Bills had various options, including Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins and Notre Dame defensive end Julian Okwara.
Upgrading the pass rush was considered a partial need for Buffalo, given that returning starters Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy will both be 30 or older before the end of this year.
Epenesa was a three-year starter at Iowa, and joins a Bills defense that lost backup pass-rusher Shaq Lawson in free agency last month. The Bills did address Lawson’s departure by signing Mario Addison in free agency.
A scouting report posted on NFL.com referred to Epenesa as having “average instincts against the run, and is a step slow to shed, but he’s strong at the point and does his job.” He was also noted for having a strong bull rush. Overall, he had 26 1/2 sacks and forced nine fumbles in 37 career games.
Epenesa earned defensive MVP honors in Iowa’s Holiday Bowl win over USC after recording 2.5 sacks in that game.
Epenesa is the second Hawkeye to be selected in this year’s draft. Tristan Wirfs was taken 13th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.