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Latest from Tony Pauline on A.J. Epenesa and Tristan Wirfs: Will they declare for the 2020 NFL Draft?

Latest on A.J. Epenesa and Tristan Wirfs: Will they declare for the 2020 NFL Draft?
Jan 1, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) reacts after a force to fumble the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second quarter in the 2019 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this season, PFN Draft Analyst and Insider Tony Pauline reported that Iowa Hawkeyes offensive tackle and top 2020 NFL Draft prospect Tristan Wirfs was leaning towards returning to school for his senior year. Since that report in September, not much has changed. However, it’s the news of Wirfs’ teammate – A.J. Epenesa – that is now raising some eyebrows around the scouting and NFL Draft community.

In the most recent episode of the PFN Draft Insiders Podcast, Pauline shed some more light on what he was hearing regarding the latest on Wirfs and Epenesa.

“Regarding A.J. Epenesa, I’m hearing the same thing I heard about Tristan Wirfs. The belief and word from his camp right now is that Wirfs is very likely to return to Iowa…I was surprised to hear the same thing about Epenesa as well because I went out of my way to ask about him and they told me that it looks like he is going to stay.”

Pauline went on to say that Junior Declaration Day is still over a month away, so this could change. He explained that once the regular season is over, Wirfs, Epenesa, and others who are considering entering the 2020 NFL Draft will go through a process and start to gather information. Remember – Luke Kuechly and Andrus Peat are recent examples of guys who both altered their course after having the same initial feeling of wanting to return to school.

Many might wonder why both Wirfs and Epenesa would stay in school for another season, especially because some media pundits are projecting them to both be first-round picks. However, while that might be true for Wirfs, some in the scouting community don’t view Epenesa in the same light.

“When I spoke to someone, they asked why would Epenesa come out?” Pauline said. “The point is that he’s having a disappointing season and while he’s dominant at times, he also disappears for stretches. He’s very inconsistent. I think what scouts wanted to see was for him step his game up to the next level. In their eyes – or the idea I’m getting from them – is that Epenesa has not done that.”

PFN Draft Insiders co-host Andy Herman said he has seen a little of that as well, noting he hasn’t had the season many expected him to have.

“There are probably some who will probably be disappointed if Wirfs and Epenesa do not come out. But, I’m sure in a year from now when we’re talking about these two players potentially as part of the 2021 NFL Draft, they’re even better than what they are now and working their way up draft boards at this point in the season.”

Another reason why one or both may stay for another year is that Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz has a good history of keeping a good number of his players through their senior year. Pauline pointed out Los Angeles Chargers CB Desmond King as an example but said returning to school may have hurt his draft stock. After piling up multiple awards in 2015, King was only named a First Team All-Big Ten and a Second-Team All-American Player in his senior season. He was drafted in the fifth round in the 2017 NFL Draft.

For fans of teams who were hoping to see Wirfs or Epenesa on their team next year, they may have to wait another year. For Hawkeyes fans, it’s potentially good news.

You can listen to the podcast here or on your favorite podcast player by searching PFN Draft Insiders. You can also tune in by clicking the player below. The conversation begins at the 25:00 mark and ends at 27:20.

We’ll keep you updated here on PFN with all the latest news and rumors regarding Wirfs, Epenesa, and the other draft prospects. For more tidbits, check out our live Game Day Blog on Saturdays during the college football regular season from 11:30 AM – Midnight EST. Be sure to also bookmark and visit our 2020 NFL Draft Underclassmen Tracker for the latest on those who may be declaring the for the draft or returning to school.

You can follow Pro Football Network on Twitter: @PFN365. While you’re there, be sure to also follow Tony Pauline: @TonyPauline.

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