As the NFL Draft approaches, all (Hawk)eyes are on Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness. With impressive collegiate stats and even more impressive physical abilities, Van Ness has emerged as a potential rising star on NFL draft boards. Despite not cracking the starting lineup in Iowa City, LVN, who became known on campus as Hercules, is expected to be the first Hawkeye off the board on Thursday night, projecting to go in the first round.
A Dominant Force on the Defensive Line
Van Ness, a standout defensive lineman from the University of Iowa, made a significant impact during his college career serving in various roles for the Hawkeyes despite never being a starter for Phil Parker’s defense. In his redshirt sophomore season, he recorded 36 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks, earning him recognition as a Second Team All-Big Ten honoree. His disruptive presence on the defensive line often forced opponents to alter their game plans, and his ability to generate pressure on the quarterback was a key factor in Iowa’s defensive success.
The strong showing as a sophomore was just the capstone on a very productive collegiate career. As a redshirt freshman, Van Ness recorded 33 tackles, 8.5 for loss, with a team-high seven sacks in 14 games and was tabbed as a Freshman All-American.
What Makes Van Ness Stand Out
While the stats through two seasons on the field in Iowa City clearly are impressive, what has NFL GMs intrigued is the physical makeup of Van Ness. LVN measured in at 6’5” and 272 pounds at the combine. It’s an ideal frame for an edge rusher at the next level and Van Ness put in full display running a 4.58 40 with a 31” vertical and 7.02 3-cone drill.
The showing at the combine ranks LVN 8th among edge rushers in this year’s draft per the NFL’s NextGen Stats Draft Model. That matches the eye test when you turn on the film. He’s got an explosive first step and uses all of that frame to dominate blockers with a punishing bull rush. With a 34” reach, Van Ness is able to get his hands on opposing tackles and guards and drive them with his brute force.
That ability to explode off the ball and get his hands into blockers also allows LVN to diagnose plays and shed the blocker in the run game. That’s been particularly useful at Iowa given the Hawkeyes utilized Van Ness situationally as a defensive tackle. While he’s not likely to end up inside at the next level, his experience in both spots demonstrates well his ability to contribute to a franchise not just as an edge rusher generating pressure on quarterbacks, but also as a 3-down player who can stop the run.
Areas for Improvement
While Van Ness is an elite level player, everyone has their weaknesses. For LVN, a lot of those stem from his youth. As just a redshirt sophomore, Van Ness has both immense potential and loads of development yet in front of him - it’s part of what makes him so appealing to the NFL despite not being a starter at Iowa.
One of the areas most likely to be developed early is a wider repertoire of pass-rushing moves to keep offensive linemen guessing. He could also improve his hand usage to better disengage from blockers and maintain his balance in high-pressure situations. Continuing to refine his technique and adding counter moves when his bull rush is staved off will be crucial for his success at the NFL level.
Here’s what NFL analyst Lance Zerlein had to say about Van Ness’s prospects:
Nicknamed “Hercules” by teammates, Van Ness is a well-developed defensive end with excellent lean mass and additional growth still to come. He’s a power-centric prospect with force as his modus operandi as both a run defender and pass rusher. Van Ness needs to work on hand attacks for quicker block shedding and to diversify his rush beyond bull-rush challenges. He’s taken snaps inside at Iowa but might need to keep filling out his frame before he’s ready to succeed as a run stuffer and pass rusher as a 4i in a 3-4 front. Van Ness is more of a splash player than consistent force on tape, but he possesses projectable traits that should allow for continued ascension as a pro.
Projected Landing Spot
So, where does that land Lukas Van Ness? As already noted, the consensus at this point is somewhere in the 1st round. In a few instances, he’s being mocked inside the top-10. CBS Sports, which is perhaps the highest of any outlet, has Van Ness going all the way up at #6 to the Detroit Lions. The lowest mock included in the consensus at NFLMockDraftDatabase.com is Five Reason Sports, which has LVN falling all the way to 27th to the Buffalo Bills.
On average, the dozens and dozens of mocks included in the consensus have Van Ness going 15th overall to the Green Bay Packers. The Pack, of course, are rumored to be moving on from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which could have major implications for their draft picks and needs this year.
Other trending landing spots for Van Ness include the aforementioned Detroit Lions, who also pick at 18 after that top-10 pick at 6, the Philadelphia Eagles who are picking 10th and Pittsburgh Steelers at 17.
Wherever he lands, Lukas Van Ness is about to earn life-changing money playing football on Sundays. The NFL Draft runs from Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29th. You can watch all the action on ESPN, ABC or the NFL Network. Thursday’s festivities officially begin at 7pm CT.