Lukas Van Ness Draft Profile
Every year, it seems like the general population anticipates the Green Bay Packers drafting a wide receiver in the first round. However, General Manager Brian Gutekunst often ends up selecting an unexpected defensive player. The same held true in 2023 when the Packers chose Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness over the speculated names of Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Zay Flowers. With that being said, most of these players, such as Rashan Gary, Eric Stokes, or Quay Walker, have had a significant impact on the Packers' defense. With Preston Smith getting up there in age, Joe Barry's defense requires a true edge rusher. Although Van Ness lined up all over the defensive line at Iowa, I believe he possesses the skillset to excel as a hand-in-the-ground force run defender and a wide-nine pass rusher.
At Iowa, Van Ness earned the nickname "Hercules" due to his physique and athletic ability, a moniker that suits him well. He has the ideal size and length for his position. His go-to move is his speed-to-power rush. His sheer strength allows him to drive offensive tackles back and hold his ground as an edge player. Due to this combination of strength and length, Van Ness possesses the basic components of a raw, undeveloped pass rusher. I appreciate his motor; Van Ness is a high-effort player who never gives up on his rushes. Although he may not have the most bendy, flexible rusher mover in the world, he exhibits enough potential for it to develop into a change-of-pace rush. The most exciting aspect of Van Ness' game is his room for growth. He has already demonstrated the ability to recognize an offense's play call, be it through his rush angle or spotting pullers in the run game. From a physical standpoint, Van Ness embodies what coaches and scouts look for in defensive linemen.
In Joe Barry's defense, the fronts do not need to be excessively aggressive in the run game because of their gap responsibilities in the run game. While Van Ness is incredibly strong and powerful, he doesn't consistently generate significant knock back at the point of contact. He may not be excessively violent, but in Barry's system, that is not a major concern. Nevertheless, defensive linemen must use their hands for block deconstruction and make plays in the backfield. Van Ness has yet to master this aspect, which has led to difficulties in disengaging, especially in the run game. As a pass rusher, Van Ness does not have a very deep arsenal. Apart from his speed-to-power and bull rushes, he has not shown the ability to win with other moves. He particularly struggles when facing quick sets and is not able to convert his speed to power. Van Ness’ get-off is inconsistent; while he gains a lot of ground with his first three steps, he does not explode off the ball consistently. Van Ness lacks lateral quickness and tends to end up on the ground a lot versus zone running teams. Although Van Ness has a ton of potential, his path to reaching it may be arduous.
Lukas Van Ness finds himself in a situation where he doesn't have to come in immediately and get double-digit sacks. He will have time to learn how to use his hands and deepen his rush package since he will be surrounded by players like Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, and Rashan Gary. Being in a read system where Van Ness is responsible for more than one gap in the run game will take time. When looking at his physical makeup and thinking about his potential, Van Ness reminds me a lot of Zach Allen. While I anticipate Van Ness playing on the edge more often than Allen, I believe Van Ness has the strength and motor that made Allen such a good player in 2021. I think Van Ness has the potential to be an even better run defender than a pass rusher, although it won't happen overnight. Patience will be key for the Packers when it comes to Van Ness' development, but he has the potential to become a cornerstone along their defensive line.
Bend + Fluidity: 9.75/12
Speed + Burst: 10.5/12
Strength + Violence: 10.5/12
Explosiveness + Point of Contact: 8/10
Length + Hand Usage: 8/10
Short-Area Quickness + Change of Direction: 6/8
Block Shed + Play-Making: 6.25/8
Run Game + Gap Integrity: 6.25/8
Instincts + Intelligence: 5/6
Effort + Pursuit: 5.25/6
Final Rating: 82
Pro Comparison: An Undeveloped Version of Zach Allen
Draft Grade: Late First Round - Early Second Round