The Green Bay Packers used their 2023 first-round pick on edge rusher Lukas Van Ness. After two NFL games, the rookie has made a good first impression. He’s now showing the potential that led the Packers to take him with the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft.
Why the Packers Felt Lukas Van Ness Had Potential
The Packers were impressed by Van Ness’ athleticism. He had an RAS (relative athletic score) of 9.39. Van Ness never started a game at Iowa although that was largely because the Hawkeyes favored members of the senior class when determining their starting lineup. He did play more snaps on defense than the players who started ahead of him.
A Crowded Position
Van Ness was expected to be brought along slowly in his rookie year. The Packers were already deep at edge rusher. They featured established players like Preston Smith, Rashan Gary and Justin Hollins. Second-year man Kingsley Enagbare made a second-year jump in training camp and was also expected to be part of the edge rushing rotation.
But Van Ness got some additional reps in training camp because Gary was still rehabbing the knee injury that ended his season last year in Week 9. Gary started training camp on the PUP list and didn’t appear in any preseason games.
Lukas Van Ness Impresses the Packers in Training Camp
Van Ness took advantage of the opportunities he received and had made some plays in training camp and in the preseason. He also showed some inexperience as he adjusted to the size and speed of NFL players and the thicker playbook as compared to college. The rookie worked hard and prepared for his first pro season.
Van Ness certainly made a good first impression on his teammates. “He’s going to be great for us,” veteran defensive lineman Kenny Clark said during OTAs. “He’s going to be versatile, play a lot of different spots. [Van Ness] is big and strong, so I think he can play inside, playing the five [tech], playing the three [tech] inside, and pass rush. He’s still agile enough to go out and play on the edge. Versatile guy, big and strong, he’s fast on the ball, and he has a good long-arm from what I’ve seen training with him.”
In his first two NFL games, Van Ness has made four total tackles including one sack, two quarterback hits and one tackle for loss. He’s been on the field for 53 plays or 34 percent of the Packers defensive plays. He may have seen more action against Atlanta had he not suffered an elbow injury during the game although he returned to the game with a brace on his arm.
A Solid Start to Van Ness’ NFL Career
Van Ness recorded his first NFL sack in the Packers Week 1 victory over the Bears in Chicago. He made an athletic play, taking the perfect angle to run down Justin Fields, one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. But Van Ness ran Fields down and didn’t let him get away. It was a special moment for the rookie.
Clearly, Van Ness is part of the edge rush rotation, but he is not yet a starter. The fact that Gary remains on a play count as he recovers from last year’s season-ending knee injury has given Van Ness more chances to see the field. So far, he’s made good on those chances.
Van Ness Has Impressed the Packers Coaches
Head coach Matt LaFleur was impressed by what he saw from Van Ness when he’s been on the field and how he’s carrying himself in practice. “I think he’s done a great job. He’s really come in he’s worked his tail off,” LaFleur said. “He’s been able to grasp what we’ve asked him to do. So, I think he’s going to continue to get better and better and better. I’m really excited about what the future holds for him.”
There is no doubt that Van Ness still has a long way to go to reach his full potential. And as Gary returns to form after his knee surgery, Van Ness may get fewer reps in the short run. But, as he learns the defense and gets more comfortable there, he should carve out a larger role in the Packers defensive rotation. The question is what he can contribute right now and how long the learning process will take. So far, he’s off to a solid start.
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