Iowa EDGE Lukas Van Ness never started a game for the Hawkeyes. And yet, he’s being projected as a likely first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Why is Van Ness so highly regarded in spite of the production questions, and what is his ultimate ceiling at the NFL level?
Lukas Van Ness NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Edge Rusher
- School: Iowa
- Current Year: Redshirt Sophomore
- Height/Weight: 6’5″, 272 pounds
- Length: 34″
- Hand: 11″
In the summer, I completed preseason evaluations of each Big Ten program, analyzing each team’s class of eligible 2023 NFL Draft prospects. Watching Iowa, one player stood out as a potential star in the making, and that was Van Ness.
Van Ness logged seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in 2021. He did this despite being a redshirt freshman, a largely rotational player, and a 6’5″, 264-pound lineman taking a large portion of his reps inside at 3-technique.
Shockingly, Van Ness never started a game at Iowa. It’s unclear why, because every time he hit the field, he stood out as the team’s most dynamic force on the defensive front — by far. He only confirmed that reputation in 2022, amassing 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks before declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft as an underclassman.
From a three-star recruit to a dominant force, Van Ness’ ascent has been quick and sudden. Some likely still don’t know who the 21-year-old is. But in the hands of the right defensive coordinator, Van Ness has the potential to quickly morph into a game-wrecker at the NFL level.
Lukas Van Ness Scouting Report
Opinions are wide-ranging on Van Ness, one of the more intriguing early declarations in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. How does he grade out on PFN’s board? Let’s take a closer look at the tape to find out.
At 6’5″, 272 pounds, with arms 34″ long, Van Ness is legitimately a laboratory-built defensive lineman. He has high-end size, mass, and length but also carries it very well. With that size, he has the core strength, power, and leverage acquisition to rotate inside situationally, just as easily as he lines up at 5-tech or as a stand-up rusher.
Size is a big part of the equation for a versatile prospect like Van Ness, but what truly makes him so dynamic is his athleticism. He’s an explosive athlete with great build-up speed and foot quickness heading into contact. He shoots off the line from interior alignments and shocks blockers with the force he’s able to generate. Outside, he can stress tackles with his burst as well.
Van Ness’ numbers at the NFL Combine corroborated the athleticism that’s visible on tape. The Iowa EDGE ran a blazing 4.58 40-yard dash with a 1.64 10-yard split, and he also jumped 31″ in the vertical jump, as well as 9’10” in the broad. The cherry on top was his 7.02 three-cone — a number near the 90th percentile among defensive ends.
Van Ness’ burst, length, and mass all grant him quantifiably elite raw power, and his full accounting of raw and functional power output can be overwhelming on the edge. Van Ness has shown he can maximize power output with proper execution — lowering his pads, leveraging his hips, loading his base, and extending inside the torso.
With his length, he can fully extend and shove tackles upright off the snap in run defense. Van Ness also uses hip turns to violently torque free from blocks. At contact, his hands have terrific knock-back power. He can slab blockers backward with full extensions and engages urgent leg drive after contact.
Right now, power is the biggest part of Van Ness’ game, but he has much more in his physical toolbox. The Iowa EDGE has extremely impressive freedom of movement in short spaces for his size, as alluded to by his agility testing. He can feign inside moves before suddenly redirecting outside again, and with his short-area athleticism, he loads additional power into contact.
For his size, Van Ness is a very twitched-up rusher. He engages fast feet and hands and suddenly adjusts his alignment before exerting power. Moreover, he has the lateral agility to quickly offset and displace blockers off the snap.
Also impressive is Van Ness’ overall flexibility for his size — a trait that helps him both acquire leverage and work at the apex. With his ankle flexion and hip flexibility, Van Ness is able to roll through the apex and reduce his surface area while engaging leg drive. His ankle flexion is not only superb but actionable from different alignments. He’s able to stunt inside and splice around blocks at surprisingly tight angles.
With his flexibility, Van Ness is extremely natural at lowering his pads to acquire leverage off the snap. He’s truly exceptional at harnessing his base to maintain leverage while keeping his balance. And when well-leveraged, he has the core and lower body strength to maintain positioning and prevent displacement when setting the edge.
Van Ness is a disciplined run defender who holds his ground consistently, and his hand strength can be overwhelming in this setting. He wrenches down anchors with force and pries through gaps. But his tools are even more exciting in the pass-rushing phase.
Van Ness still has plenty of room to keep growing as a pass rusher. His hand usage — past initial power exertions — is largely a work in progress. That said, Van Ness has flashed the ability to multitask around the edge. He can hit a cross-chop-rip combo while using ankle flexion to pinch the corner and will attempt swims as well.
Going further, Van Ness can use swats to widen blockers’ hands, then violently extend inside the torso and plow blockers back with leg drive. He’ll also actively replace his hands to sustain this leg drive and has shown to feign upfield off the snap to set up power rushes.
Motor is rarely an issue with Van Ness. He’s a relentless rusher coming downhill who consistently fights through contact and uses his length to close plays. In pursuit, his size and closing speed make him a potentially overwhelming force in space.
Areas for Improvement
Every creative defensive coordinator will be chomping at the bit to add Van Ness to their arsenal of playmakers. His mix of tools is nearly unmatched in the 2023 NFL Draft. That said, there are negatives to note on his scouting report.
While Van Ness has elite power capacity, his leg drive isn’t always dominant. Especially when aligned on the interior, his rushes sometimes stall midway through. When attempting to torque through gaps, he’ll sometimes pop up too tall and can be corralled in these instances.
As a pass rusher, Van Ness is largely power-dominant at the moment and lacks a vast, refined arsenal outside of that. He could also come with a more polished pass-rushing plan, as slight delays between moves can exhaust opportunities. More often than not, he’ll simply defer to power. His raw power can be overwhelming, but he’ll need to expand his toolbox against NFL offensive tackles.
Moving onward, Van Ness’ placement could be cleaner on initial strikes. He sometimes comes off the line too hasty and gives up synergy trying to make first contact. He needs to also be more consistent stacking counters on his initial power moves, and occasionally loses his balance leaning past his center of gravity, playing his way into snatch-and-traps.
In run defense, while Van Ness’ strength is exceptional, he doesn’t quite have the elite strength and mass to consistently fend off double-teams and prevent movement. In pursuit, he occasionally takes faulty pursuit angles in the backfield and plays himself out of tackle attempts.
Current Draft Projection for Iowa EDGE Lukas Van Ness
Myles Murphy is widely viewed as a potential blue-chip prospect and an arguable top-10 player in the 2023 NFL Draft. But what if I told you he and Van Ness aren’t far apart?
Van Ness grades as a surefire Round 1 prospect with high-end versatility and raw talent. Top 10 isn’t out of the question for him, especially after his athletic testing.
They’re different prospects, but Murphy and Van Ness do have some intriguing similarities as rushers with equally appealing power profiles. Both have elite size and power to go along with high-energy athleticism and violent play styles. Murphy is better at sustaining power rushes right now and has better hand usage. But with both prospects, you’re drawing from a well of quantifiably elite tools.
MORE: Updated NFL Draft Order
Van Ness is an explosive, amped-up mover with length, mass, strength, and power. One could also argue he has better bend and ankle flexion than Murphy. What’s lacking from Van Ness’ game right now is overarching consistency and refinement beyond his pure power element. He’s not a technician with his hands, but he’s young and can be coached up in that regard.
Already, Van Ness has proven to be a wrecking ball with his explosiveness, power, and natural leverage acquisition. That effortless leverage acquisition, in fact, serves as an accelerant for his elite traits and provides him with over-arching versatility. He can play on the edge as a stand-up rusher, a 5-tech, or rotate inside to 3-tech and be a disruptive force in-between gaps.
Either way, with his rare physical potential, Van Ness is a worthy Round 1 prospect, with immediate alignment versatility and blue-chip upside as a disruptive chess piece on the defensive line.
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