The Green Bay Packers kept the 13th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and used it on DE/Edge rusher Lukas Van Ness out of Iowa.
Wide receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba was still on the board as were all the tight ends, but the Packers decided to use the pick to select a pass rusher.
Here are ten things we learned from the first day of the Packers 2023 NFL Draft:
- Van Ness Never Started a Game in College
While everyone regarded the Iowa product as one of the top pass rushers available in the draft, he never started a game in college. Part of the reason is that the Iowa coaching staff rewards seniority so players who had more experience got the starts.
But Van Ness did play more snaps than the players who started ahead of him and led the Hawkeyes in sacks and pressures in each of the last two seasons.
- Van Ness Played Both DE and DT at Iowa
Van Ness primarily lined up at defensive end in college, but Iowa rotates its defensive linemen and the Packers first-round pick also played inside, lining up over the B-gap. His versatility is something that could benefit the Packers are they can move him around the defensive line to take advantage of the best available matchups. He may also line up as an OLB at times.
- Van Ness Is Young
Van Ness is 21 and won’t turn 22 until July 6th. He is a red-shirt sophomore and played only two seasons of college football. He passed up two years of eligibility to enter the 2023 NFL Draft.
He does need to mature a bit and at times plays out of control when he gets too emotional. He also needs to work on his hands and how he utilizes them when battling offensive linemen.
With some quality coaching and some experience, he has the potential to be a very dangerous pass rusher.
- His Effort Is Rarely Questioned
Few people question Van Ness’ work ethic or hustle. His speed allows him to not only rush the passer but to pursue running backs when the play is heading away from his side of the field.
He has long arms and good speed for a defensive lineman with a 4.58 40-yard dash at the combine. His nickname is Hercules for his chiseled physique.
- He Also Has Special Teams Experience
Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia may also make good use of Van Ness next season as he played on special teams at Iowa. He even blocked two punts in a game against rival Iowa State and won the Coach’s Appreciation Award given by the Iowa coaching staff for his performance in that game while also winning Big 10 Special Teams player of the week.
- Van Ness Was a Two-Sport Star
While football is his first sport, it isn’t the only one he played competitively, and it wasn’t his first love. In high school, Van Ness played hockey, earning his letter by playing defense for three years. His school went to the Final Four in the 2020 State Championships and led the league in penalties.
- Jaxson Smith-Njigba Was Still on the Board
One player many people thought the Packers would take was wide receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba of Ohio State. JSN was still available when the Packers were on the clock at 13 but the Packers passed on the slot receiver to take Van Ness.
The Seahawks grabbed Smith-Njigba with the 20th overall pick later in the first round.
- Brian Gutekunst Continues to Emphasize Defense
Since taking over as general manager of the Packers in 2018, GM Brian Gutekunst has picked eight players in the first round and seven of them are defensive players. Gute has added CB Jaire Alexander in 2018, Edge Rashan Gary and S Darnell Savage in 2019, CB Eric Stokes in 2021 and ILB Quay Walker and DL Devonte Wyatt in 2022. Now you can add Van Ness.
The only offensive player Gutekunst has drafted since becoming Packers GM is starting quarterback Jordan Love in 2020.
- The Packers Have Not Drafted a Wide Receiver in the First Round Since 2002
Gutekunst isn’t the only Packers GM who has stayed away from wide receivers in the first round. The last time the Packers picked a wideout in round one was 2002 when they selected Javon Walker.
They have, however, selected six receivers in the second round since then including Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Christian Watson.
- Only One Tight End Came Off the Board in the First Round
Tight end remains a big need for the Packers, and they are expected to take at least two of them in the draft with one on day two and one on day three.
While this is a deep tight end draft, most NFL teams don’t view tight end as a premium position that they are eager to use a first round pick on.
In the first round, only one tight end came off the board and it was Dalton Kincaid who was selected with the 25th overall pick by the Buffalo Bills.
A lot of tight ends will likely fly off the board in Round 2 and the Packers may have their choice of several of the top prospects at the position.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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