Former Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa selected 54th overall by the Buffalo Bills in the NFL Draft

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A.J. Epenesa makes a tackle against Nebraska.

By Tyler Devine

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The wait was longer than many expected, but former Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa's NFL dreams came true on Friday after being selected 54th overall by the Buffalo Bills in the NFL Draft.

Epenesa joins a long and distinguished list of former Hawkeyes selected in the second round.

That list includes Andre Tippett, Ladell Betts, Eric Steinbach, Bob Sanders, Matt Roth and Pat Angerer.

"Depending on the depth chart, where he might fit in, you're going to get, you're just going to get a typical Iowa player," ESPN analyist Kirk Herbstreit said on the NFL Draft broadcast. "Hard hat, shows up on time ready to work and do exactly what is asked of him."

At one point, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound Epenesa was projected as a first round pick but then a poor 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine appears to have damaged his stock.

Epenesa, the son of former Hawkeye defensive lineman Eppy Epenesa, was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2019 after recording 11.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and four fumbles.

Eppy and his wife Stephanie have been a major influence on A.J.'s performance on and off the field.

Epenesa praised his parents for helping him reach this milestone.

"There's no words to describe how grateful I am to my dad and both my parents for just teaching me the value of a good work ethic," Epenesa said. "It's like that walk-on mentality. My dad was a walk-on and he just kind of instilled that in me from a young age and to never be satisfied.

Epenesa's final game as a Hawkeye was one to remember as he earned Holiday Bowl MVP after dominating against USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson, who was selected 18th overall by the Miami Dolphins.

The Glen Carbon, Ill. native earned first-team All-Big Ten honors by coaches and second-team honors by the media in 2018 despite being a reserve, playing behind Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson, who are both now on NFL rosters. 

Epenesa also led the Big Ten in sacks as a sophomore in 2018 and played in all 39 of Iowa's games during his three-year career.

Sports Trac estimates Epenesa's first contract to be worth $5.87 million with a $1.83 million signing bonus.