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Buffalo Bills' Bruce Smith did not win NFL Defensive Rookie of Year, but might AJ Epenesa?

Bills legend Bruce Smith never won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but 2020 second-round pick AJ Epenesa is among the betting favorites for this season.
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An argument can be made that former Buffalo Bills end Bruce Smith was the greatest defensive lineman in NFL history, and his 200 career sacks are a league record. He was an 11-time Pro Bowler and eight-time first-team All-Pro. Smith was the No. 1 overall pick of the Bills in 1985 out of Virginia Tech and had 48 tackles and 6.5 sacks as a rookie. He lost out on Defensive Rookie of the Year to Colts linebacker Duane Bickett. Which brings us to current Bills defensive end AJ Epenesa, who is a +1400 fourth-favorite on the moneyline odds at William Hill sportsbook to win the honor this year.

Two Buffalo players have won DROY overall, both linebackers: Jim Haslett (the future NFL coach) in 1979 and Shane Conlan in 1987. Defensive back Tre'Davious White had a case to win in 2017 but lost out to fellow cornerback Marshon Lattimore of the Saints. It wasn't that close with Lattimore getting 45 of 50 first-place votes and White four.

As for Epenesa, he was projected as a potential first-round pick in April's draft out of Iowa but slid to No. 54 overall – that was Buffalo's initial pick in the draft after trading its first-rounder to Minnesota in the Stefon Diggs deal. Ironically, Epenesa's first career collegiate sack came 2017 against Wyoming when he took down Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen, who so happens to be Buffalo's starter now.

The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Epenesa finished last season with 49 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in being named second-team All-American. Epenesa forced nine fumbles in his three seasons at Iowa, tied for most in Big Ten during that span.

Epenesa should see plenty of time as a rookie after Buffalo lost pass-rusher Shaq Lawson this offseason, although the team did sign veteran Mario Addison. For now, Epenesa projects as the backup defensive end to Trent Murphy.

"In a perfect world, he'll play a backup position the first season potentially to move inside on rush situations," Coach Sean McDermott said to Syracuse.com.

Buffalo opens the season Sept. 13 as a 5.5-point home favorite against the Jets.

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SportsLine Staff