INDIANAPOLIS – Former Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa is a prospect who's been linked to the Falcons in a number of mock drafts so far in the pre-draft process, including one on this site.
Epenesa seemingly fits what the Falcons need, which is a hard-nosed, tough player to come off the edge. He also would have a mentor from the day he arrived in Atlanta as he revealed one of his first cousins is currently on the Falcons roster and plays his same position.
Epenesa and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner are cousins and grew up together with the dream of being NFL players.
Tuioti-Mariner has already accomplished that feat and Epenesa is well on his way as he is expected to be a first-round pick in April.
Epenesa said if the Falcons select him with the No. 16 overall pick, giving him the chance to play with his cousin, it would be a dream come true.
"His mom and my dad are brother and sister," Epenesa said. "I grew up with him, it would be great to have the opportunity to play together. Growing up together, playing football, it's kind of a dream of ours but it would be really cool if we have that opportunity."
Tuioti-Mariner spent the 2018 season and the first eight weeks of the 2019 season on the Falcons' practice squad and was promoted to the active roster in Week 9. In eight games, Tuioti-Mariner recorded 14 tackles and one quarterback hit.
If the Falcons were to draft Epenesa, he would be expected to be an immediate contributor.
Epenesa, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound defensive end, recorded 26.5 sacks in his three seasons at Iowa.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said players that come out of the University of Iowa are often "pro ready" and that's what Atlanta needs as they look to get back to the postseason.
Epenesa believes he can be a versatile player for the Falcons and his ability to rush from the inside and outside makes him unique. Falcons coach Dan Quinn values these traits from his defensive players.
"I feel like I can grow, there's a lot of things I can do," Epenesa said. "I can rush from the inside, from the outside. My best is outside because it's what I've been doing. I feel like I can grow on the inside, I feel like I can grow when it comes to dropping in coverage, there's a lot of things I can learn how to do."