Packers’ Lukas Van Ness Showcasing Promise, Versatility

Lukas Van Ness, Packers
NFL Analysis Network

Heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, there were a lot of people who thought that the Green Bay Packers would target a pass catcher early on. The team had lost Allen Lazard in free agency, following an offseason in which Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling also moved on from the team.

With every wide receiver and tight end on the board, the Packers had their choice of which pass catcher they wanted to add to the roster. However, they ended up going in a different direction, waiting until the second round to start bolstering the weapons around Jordan Love.

Instead, with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Packers selected Iowa defensive lineman, Lukas Van Ness. Van Ness was a highly regarded prospect, possessing some versatility in his game as he played all along the Hawkeyes’ defensive line during his tenure with the team.

Pass rusher was a major need for Green Bay with Rashan Gary recovering from a torn ACL and Preston Smith being the only other player who consistently got after the quarterback. How unimposing was their pass rush last season? Gary, who played in only nine games, finished second on the team with 6.0 sacks, behind Smith’s 8.5.

What was the first impression that Van Ness provided during the team’s OTAs and minicamp? Per Rob Demovsky of ESPN, the Iowa product flashed the physical attributes that made him a top-ranked prospect while picking up valuable experience along the way.

“Van Ness has shown both power and speed as a pass-rusher, but it’s nearly impossible to know if that will translate from non-padded and supposedly non-contact practices into the real thing. But with Rashan Gary still rehabbing last season’s knee injury, Van Ness has gotten plenty of reps with the No. 1 and No. 2 defensive fronts.”

Getting in as many reps as possible, even without pads, is imperative for Van Ness. One of the knocks against him was his lack of experience as he only played in 26 games collegiately and didn’t make a single start.

Despite playing in a rotation, Van Ness produced some impressive stats. He had 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in two seasons, something the Packers are hoping he can build upon with more snaps at the next level.

That kind of limited playing time is rare for such a highly regarded prospect to have, but there is a lot to like about Van Ness. With some time on an NFL weight program, he should be able to bulk up to switch between defensive tackle and defensive end with ease.

It will take some time for Van Ness to reach his full potential, which the Packers can afford him. If Gary can get back in the lineup early in the season, he will be able to play as part of the rotation alongside him and Smith. 

With Gary entering the final year on his rookie contract and Smith turning 31 while being a potential cut candidate next year, the selection of Van Ness could have been one the Packers made with an eye toward the future.