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A.J. Epenesa emerging as third defensive end with strong Bills’ camp performance

Some had thought Epenesa might be buried, but he’s balling instead.

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Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

Buffalo Bills defensive end A.J. Epenesa came into his third training camp with a lot to prove. Since drafting him as their top pick in 2020, the team has drafted two more defensive ends in the first two rounds and signed All-Pro Von Miller to a big free-agent deal. His first two seasons just haven’t been good enough. During 2022 training camp, though, the third-year player is balling out instead of being buried, and he’s moved up the depth chart like a rocket.

On Friday night at the Return of the Blue and Red scrimmage, Miller sat out for a veteran rest day. Starting in his place opposite 2021 first-rounder Greg Rousseau was Epenesa. He’s earned that opportunity with a great camp so far.

Per Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic, “Epenesa has made at least one play in the backfield in most of the practices.”

In 2021, Epenesa was the fourth defensive end, playing less than 31% of the defensive snaps. He never topped 46% of the team snaps in a single game. (He played 45.9% against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2, a game he absolutely demolished the offensive line.) He was a healthy scratch against the Tennessee Titans in October.

The Bills have enviable depth at the position with Boogie Basham, Shaq Lawson, and Mike Love. None of them have outplayed Epenesa this offseason.

Last offseason, Epenesa dropped a good chunk of weight. Maybe it just took him a year to get used to the new skillset that comes with that.