New England Patriots

Nov 16, 2019; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) in action against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

By Ty Anderson,

Getting a read on the New England Patriots is never easy, and NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah didn’t run from that when asked about getting a read on the Patriots’ plans with their first of 12 picks in next week’s 2020 NFL Draft.

“They’re always tough to get a read on,” Jeremiah, who held a conference call on Thursday, admitted of the Patriots. “In terms of what direction they’ll go with players, to say they keep things close to the vest would be an understatement.”

But Jeremiah did have one player in mind when thinking of the Patriots at No. 23 overall: Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa.

A 6-foot-5 edge rusher, that slot seems right for Epenesa depending on how the board falls next week. (The Sports Hub’s Alex Barth has Epenesa going at No. 20 overall.) And Jeremiah’s reasoning came back to the recently-revealed notes on what Belichick looks for at every position, and how Epenesa certainly fit the description of what Belichick wants on the edge.

“I went back and looked back at a lot of the notes that I had been given when I was with the Ravens from one of our scouts who had been with Coach Belichick,” Jeremiah began. “When it talked about edge rushers, it talked about his preference for size over speed out there and guys who can hold the point of attack in the run game, and they can collapse the pocket. They’re power players. To me, if you’re drawing up a description of A.J. Epenesa, it was literally what they were looking for.”

It’s about more than build, however, as Epenesa had a beastly junior season at Iowa that included 49 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, and a collegiate career-best 11.5 sacks to go with four forced fumbles in 13 games for the Hawkeyes. Those numbers were enough to earn Epenesa, second-team Associated Press All-American honors.

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Jeremiah also linked Epenesa to the Patriots based on the connection Belichick has with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

Close with one another since Ferentz served as Belichick’s offensive line coach in Cleveland back in 1993, Belichick has maintained a strong relationship with Ferentz (Kirk’s son James has been with the Patriots since 2017), and even had members of the Iowa coaching staff at minicamp in 2018.

“All of that seemed to me like this guy was meant to be a New England Patriot,” said Jeremiah. “It just makes too much sense.”

But truth be told, with so many legitimate areas of both short- and long-term need for the Patriots, there’s no shortage of players and potential picks that “make too much sense” for the Patriots.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.