As rumors swirl up surrounding the Chicago Bears and a potential trade back from the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, one popular prospect who fits as a trade-back option is Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness.
Designating him as purely an edge rusher doesn’t seem incredibly fair, seeing as though he also has plenty of experience as a defensive tackle in certain formations, especially as a 3-technique. However, his skill set has him high in demand at the NFL level and seems to make him a near-lock for Round 1 selection in April.
Weight: 272 pounds
Class: Redshirt sophomore
Van Ness enters the NFL as a redshirt sophomore, having played two seasons for Iowa in a backup role — for reference, Iowa predominantly uses seniority to determine the starting lineup. He was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, having starred for Barrington High School in Illinois.
He placed sixth in the Big Ten with 6 sacks in 2022, and he tied for fourth in both categories with 32 quarterback pressures and 23 hurries. In total, his two seasons saw him tally 70 total tackles, 19 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks. A two-time All-Academic Big Ten, he was named a second-team All-Big Ten for his efforts in 2022, as well as being a FWAA Freshman All-American in 2021.
From a physical perspective, Van Ness is as enticing of a prospect as they come in the 2023 draft.
As a well-proportioned defensive lineman with super long arms and massive hands, Van Ness has an NFL-ready frame with enticing raw physical attributes. He accelerates quite well off the line of scrimmage, timing his burst well and showing very good explosiveness in his first step. Not only is he quick in a vacuum, but he has very good long speed which allows him to chase down ball-carriers in pursuit. His flexibility off the edge is encouraging, as he sets up speed rushes well with nice agility and the ability to sink his hips and stay low, thus taking precise angles to the quarterback, is very good.
Van Ness had an impressive performance at the Combine, which backs up the athleticism he displays on tape.
Perhaps even more impressive than Van Ness’ athleticism is his power. His sheer length and lower-body strength allows him to push the pocket incredibly well. His bull rush is the go-to in his arsenal, and he converts speed to power tremendously with his long limbs and sheer force he packs in his legs when he churns at the point of attack. He has the raw power in his hands needed to ideally hold up blockers, and his stack-and-shed ability against the run is quite solid. When he gets his pad level down correctly, it’s very tough to stop him.
Van Ness is large for an edge rusher and explosive for any defensive lineman, much less someone who can play along the interior. His speed as a 3-technique in subpackages on passing downs would make him an intriguing threat in spurts. The versatility he brings from an alignment perspective makes him a very fun prospect to project in the pros.
Van Ness is very much a bull in a china shop, and there are both good and bad connotations with that.
For as explosive as he is, Van Ness can struggle a bit with his center of gravity. He pops a bit upright coming out of a three-point stance, which can especially hurt him as a run defender along the interior. His hips are loose, but his knees and ankles are a tad stiff, which means he doesn’t get his weight underneath him on a consistent basis. This affects his body control and ability to eat up gaps consistently, so if a team projects him as a defensive tackle at the next level, that’s an area he’ll need to improve at.
Though he plays with a red-hot motor, Van Ness can stand to develop a deeper pass-rushing arsenal. A lot of how he wins comes from sheer power, and he can sometimes look lost if he doesn’t win with his first move. Once he improves in his ability to string together hand techniques and work on his counter moves, he’ll be a lot more effective.
Fit with Bears
I project Van Ness as a defensive end in a 4-3 base system. I’ve seen some tag him as a defensive tackle — particularly as a 3-technique — which I don’t dislike. His speed would certainly make him a mismatch along the interior, and I think he will take reps as a tackle to some extent at the next level.
However, given Van Ness’ rather unhinged playing style, he’s someone I’d rather have off the edge. If he wrecks havoc but loses control over his body, I’d rather have him do that with more space to work with. If you blow your assignment up the middle, it’s more likely to create opportunities for opposing offenses in the run game. Plus, Van Ness’ build-up speed and power is best suited with a few extra steps to gain momentum.
Van Ness is a player I’ll have in at least my top 20 when it’s all said and done. Though raw, his physical upside is tremendous, and he’s a perfect fit schematically for the Bears. I could see him becoming a favorite option for them as early as picks Nos. 8-10.