Get Ready for a Lukas Van Ness Sophomore Surge

Year 2 could be a breakout season for Lukas Van Ness

On day one of the NFL Draft in 2023, I wanted a pass catcher like many others in Green Bay Packer nation. Either wide receiver or tight end, it didn't matter, I wanted that exciting first-round target for Jordan Love. Part of it also may have been for the reason that it would've been pure comic gold to have the Packers draft a receiver in the first round as soon as Aaron Rodgers left after years of complaints that they never did that for him. I also would've settled for an offensive tackle. Peter Skoronski would've been a great addition in my eyes, especially given that he had a family legacy in Green Bay. But when pick 13 came, it was not for offense. The Packers went defense again for the tenth time in the last 11 first-round picks. 

The Packers picked Lukas Van Ness, another athletic freak of an edge rusher to go along with their current gaggle of first-round defenders. And while some of the keyboard warriors of the fan base took to social media to voice their disapproval, I decided to embrace it. With Rashan Gary soon to sign his four-year extension, I realized that if Van Ness worked out as expected, the Packers could have a monster duo of edge rushers for at least the next four years. 

Despite his top 15 selection, Van Ness was considered a project player and was expected to ease his way into the lineup like Rashan Gary did four years earlier. Looking at the circumstances between each player was almost like looking into a mirror. Gary wasn't that impressive stat-wise in his senior year of college and neither was Van Ness. Gary was a defensive lineman converted to outside linebacker much like Van Ness would be. Stat-wise though, Van Ness took the cake in his rookie season. 

Playing about 33% of the defensive snaps in 2023, Lukas Van Ness turned in four sacks, and 10 QB hits, alongside 32 combined tackles with eight of those being for a loss. Those stats aren't going to make headlines, but when you consider if he saw the same snap count as the Packers' premiere pass rusher, Rashan Gary, he may have bypassed Gary in total tackles and sacks, it puts things into perspective a bit. Van Ness was frequently used on rushing downs while his positional teammates would take more of the passing down reps. For him being a project player who wasn't supposed to see a lot of playing time, these stats aren't terrible at all. 

What will 2024 bring?

The biggest change in the world of Lukas Van Ness heading into 2024 is the same change facing most of the defense. That is learning a new scheme. With Jeff Hafley entering the fold as the new defensive coordinator, the Packers are expected to move back to a 4-3 defense. Or a 4-2-5, either way, it's a change. But believe it or not, this actually benefits Lukas Van Ness. LVN spent most of his collegiate career at Iowa with his hand in the dirt. 

Van Ness would line up on the edge, or even in the middle of the defensive line, and still have success getting could penetration on the ball carrier at Iowa. Being only a year removed from this type of scheme or positional ask, Van Ness should be almost ready to go to contribute at a higher level in 2024. 

Originally I thought there was a chance given Lukas Van Ness's speed he could end up more in the linebacker position alongside Quay Walker as an inside linebacker in that 4-2-5 scheme. After the drafting of Edgerrin Cooper, however, it seems like that idea has faded as Cooper is a strong favorite now to play as a great complement to Quay Walker. 

After a year though, Van Ness is back in his element. He's used to putting his hand in the dirt whether it be in the middle of the defensive line or the outside. He got to be the 13th overall draft pick for a reason by playing in that element. It's time for Van Ness to show us exactly why that is. With Rashan Gary and Preston Smith being technically the only other two edge rushers given with Kingsley Enagbare still recovering from injury, Lukas Van Ness is ready to stop up in his absence. 

We fully expect Lukas Van Ness to see the field a lot more in his second season. Whether that be as an edge rusher or interior lineman will remain to be seen. But no matter what, Lukas Van Ness can be an absolute game-changer on defense. Hopefully, the transition to the new defense will be smooth and we will see a big second-year breakout from the sophomore Packer.  

 

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Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to CheeseheadTV as well as PackersTalk. Follow him on Twitter @gmeinholz for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.

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12 points
 

Comments (36)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
LambeauPlain's picture

May 19, 2024 at 07:26 am

I must admit, my reaction to Van Ness being the first pick last year at 13 was the same as Gary's first round selection...I did not like it.

By the end of year 2, Gary showed me I was wrong about him. He was in fact what Coach Smith said...a hard working, high motor, uber talented pass rusher who did everything Michigan coaches asked him to do. And he was going to be a pass rushing stud.

Van Ness started slow, but by the end of the season, he was looking like someone D coordinators needed to account for. Still needing more pass rush moves, he began to stand out with his speed and strength.

Like Enagbare's sophomore season, if Hercules comes to camp with another move or two, watch out!

10 points
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dblbogey's picture

May 19, 2024 at 06:40 pm

I was ok with the Gary pick, but even as a devout Hawkeye fan, wasn't thrilled with Van Ness pick. But, he's very strong, fast, high character guy who gives 100% on every single play and I think the switch to 4-3 suits him well. I'm hoping we have some decent luck with injuries this year because there's a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.

3 points
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Minniman's picture

May 20, 2024 at 02:46 pm

Agree dub, the switch to 4-3 will be his friend.

0 points
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Cheezehead72's picture

May 20, 2024 at 06:00 am

I will admit that I was surprised but I am never upset with Packers' picks. I wait about 3 to 4 years and then I am happy or disappointed. But then I always remember hitting on all the draft picks in any year is like winning the lottery and I have not won yet but then I play only one or twice a year.

3 points
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Renllaw's picture

May 19, 2024 at 07:28 am

I couldn’t be more excited to watch this defense take shape. Blame Gute or Barry, whichever you want. But for a few years we have seen Gute bring in aggressive in your face Dawgs (pun intended) only to have Barry asking them to play passive defense. Looks like the FO and staff are now in sync. Van Ness, Gary, Walker, Wyatt, Alexander, Stokes, X, Bullard, Clark, Cooper, Brooks…. We will soon find out if they are really the players we think they are.

10 points
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The_Baloney_Stops_Here's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:24 pm

Well said. Its time to sink or swim for the defense.

3 points
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Bearmeat's picture

May 19, 2024 at 07:29 am

While I fully expect a coverage bust or two per game, this defense is going to be much improved, right away. And LVN will be a part of that. Preston will be the one who stands out I think - and not in a good way. He's never been a 43 DE. I expect Aaron Kampman in reverse and Preston to finish his career elsewhere after this coming year.

Gary is the one, however, who needs to become a premier rusher. They've paid him like on. He needs to deliver. Whatever LVN contributes this year will be gravy, as long as he is starting caliber by 2025.

11 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:28 am

It's been a few years but Preston played 4-3 DE in college. It's not totally new to him,it's just been awhile.

4 points
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The_Baloney_Stops_Here's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:25 pm

The nice thing about running more man coverage is fewer mental mistakes. Man coverage is pretty straight forward.

3 points
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TKWorldWide's picture

May 20, 2024 at 06:07 am

Good points!
And by “coverage bust”, do you mean a blown assignment? Or just a receiver beating his man (badly)?

1 points
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vin0770's picture

May 19, 2024 at 07:30 am

33% of snaps seems so light. What is the % that an edge rusher plays in the league if he’s the proverbial don’t take him off the field guy? I don’t mine sharing the load rotationally and keeping guys fresh, but in the 4th quarter with game on the line you keep the best on the field. Who’s that going to be?

4 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:37 am

The top Edge rushers averaged 75-80% of the snaps last year. The only outlier on that is Maxx Crosby, who played an incredible 95% of the Raiders' D snaps. I wouldn't do that if I was his DC but he's done it two years in a row without any dropoff in production.

4 points
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The_Baloney_Stops_Here's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:43 pm

Here's the thing. Van Ness only getting 33% of the snaps wasnt some punishment cuz he was bad. He wouldve been a starter on most teams but most teams dont also have Gary and Smith. Its the same thing as when Gary was a rookie. He didnt play much cuz he was behind the Smith bros. Thats how the Packers like to develop their edge guys.

4 points
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stockholder's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:27 am

Well he didn't make the 2023 All rookie Team.
And Oh well; the Lions got 4 picks on it.

But whats important here, is the problems
that existed at OT.
And when you think we just had to have one
this year,
Doesn't it seem like Gute is attacking the draft
a year later than he should?

I'm glad Van Ess is here.
But it just looks like we're not dealing with reality.

-16 points
3
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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:38 am

"But it just looks like we're not dealing with reality."

It's fair to say one of us isn't.

11 points
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Packers0808's picture

May 19, 2024 at 02:03 pm

You have been doing the lack of reality and more for quite a while now.

9 points
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stockholder's picture

May 19, 2024 at 05:47 pm

Ok then let me help you.
Who are we?

The holes get easier to fill,
if you create them..
The holes you create will always
keep you from winning.

-8 points
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Packers0808's picture

May 19, 2024 at 06:26 pm

Well work on the ones in your head then if that is the case,.

5 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:18 pm

This is right up there with your best goobledygook ever.

2 points
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The_Baloney_Stops_Here's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:46 pm

What problems at OT? Tom and Walker both played well and they just drafted an OT in the first round. Serious question man: why do you even follow on a day to day basis when you basically hate everything about this team and find no joy in it? Not even trolling here. Why would anyone have such commitment to something that clearly makes them unhappy?

3 points
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stockholder's picture

May 20, 2024 at 06:27 am

It isn't the team . It's the GM.

-1 points
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Minniman's picture

May 20, 2024 at 03:12 pm

Three important points:

1) The 2023 Packers OL was not putrid - sure, it wasn't what it has been in the past, but Love was not "running for his life".......... and against some of the TOP EDGE and DL too...... sure, there was TE and RB help added, and MLF did say that this coming year he was looking to reduce that.

2) The 2024 draft had a run on many of the fan-coveted T's

3) Gute was quoted in an interview this year that "his draft board is for the GB Packers, not the (generic) NFL." He then went on to say (and paraphrasing here) that he generally goes BPA but with a recognition of needs. Perhaps he just didn't see the right players there in 2023

For mine, the objective of the draft is to pick as many players as you can that will become starters - irrespective of position - "needs" get filled by FA's when you know a) what you need, and b) what they will bring.

Circling back, and respectfully, can you kindly elaborate on what you see as the OT problems that this year's Packers will have (excluding injury depth) that would become such a "burning platform" as to require nothing less than an intervention?

2 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:59 am

I expect to see a mainly three man rotation with Gary, Preston and LVN playing 35-45 snaps a game and then Enagbare picking up around 20 snaps.

LVN needs a lot of work on his pass rush moves but he had faster times than Gary in the metrics that count for Edge rushers, 3-cone and 10 yard split. The upside is there if he puts in the work.

3 points
5
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LambeauPlain's picture

May 19, 2024 at 11:06 am

Agree...those 3 will be fun to watch as starting DE's.

Also in the mix this year will be LB pressure on the QB. Both Walker and Cooper have done it in college. Walker was also effective bringing pressure during Barry Days, that rarely called for LB blitzes.

Some real disruptors will be playing Safety too.

Buckle up. Expect some chunk plays will be given up as Hafley's ACE (Attitude, Commitment, Energy) vision is installed. This D has had solid talent...and it is even better now.

2 points
3
1
NickPerry's picture

May 19, 2024 at 09:41 am

I was one of those who initially didn't like the Van Ness pick. Just like I always do I react first and then think about it. After my initial reaction to the pick I thought about it and then thought let's wait until day two and see if Gute helps the offense...And boy DID he!

We all know what happened on day two and three...Gute SMASHED it out of 1265. He drafted Reed, Musgrave, and Kraft day two and Wicks, Brooks, Valentine on day three. By the end of the draft I looked at it like a big picture.

Van Ness wasn't picked to be thrown out to the wolves. If he was so damn great right away fine, but the plan was always to bring him along slowly. With Barry and the 3-4 GONE, Van Ness is the PERFECT piece. He can play inside, outside, standing up, or with his hand in the dirt. Personally I can't wait to see LVN, Brooks, Clark, & Gary, all lined up on 3rd and 7. Throw in Preston Smith, Wyatt and Wooden, you have the makings of a dominant D-Line. By the end of the2024 season IMO LVN will be the Packers best D-Linemen...Yes, better than Gary.

3 points
4
1
Spock's picture

May 19, 2024 at 09:55 am

"Lukas Van Ness is ready to stop up in his absence. " So, you're saying he'll plug the gaps? :)

2 points
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Johnblood27's picture

May 19, 2024 at 10:15 am

Forget the cheese curds, get the boy some Metamucil...

2 points
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GregC's picture

May 19, 2024 at 10:28 am

Van Ness was on the short list of players I was hoping they might take in the first round last year. I did not want a wide receiver because none was worthy of the 13th pick.

To be fair to Joe Barry, he allowed Van Ness to line up with his hand in the dirt more and more as the season went on. Van Ness always seemed like a slightly awkward fit in the 3-4 defense, but he should be totally in his element now. I think Rashan Gary will like it too.

I was thinking that this year's draft looks a lot like last year's draft in a way, with a value pick in the first round who won't necessarily start and then hitting the needs really hard with the next several picks.

6 points
6
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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 12:20 pm

The big thing is one of them needs to be comfortable playing on both sides of the line. I think that's probably LVN, most of his highlights were from the right side of inside at Iowa but he played on the left side quite a bit last year.

3 points
4
1
NJMagic's picture

May 19, 2024 at 11:18 am

I had the same reaction last year to this year's first.... And am talking the lesson of "wait and see."

As Packers fans, while everyone else talks a out "opportunity cost" and "rookie pay scales" I appreciate the FO approach of "you never know" where there is depth in this high attrition game.

4 points
5
1
Alberta_Packer's picture

May 19, 2024 at 01:18 pm

I would not be surprised if LVN has the greatest leap of any Packers players this season. Important to note is that he is only 22 years old - so still a young adult playing amongst older men. While having played less than 1000 college snaps (920) in his 2 years with Iowa. Yet during his rookie year with the Packers - he flashed brilliance - despite his limited snaps. Speaking of which (snaps) - I liked the way LVN was managed last year. Gradually, strategically and carefully. Not unlike the Rashawn Gary developmental plan.

4 points
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TKWorldWide's picture

May 20, 2024 at 06:14 am

Yes! LVN showed very encouraging signs as a rookie, and will only get better. The “second year jump” is REAL!

5 points
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joejetson's picture

May 19, 2024 at 07:58 pm

Finding a dominant pass rusher is similar to finding a franchise QB. Normally, you have to have a Top 5 pick to get a "sure thing" QB. With pass rushers, it's usually a Top 10 pick.

The Packers try to circumvent this by drafting "Project" players (i.e. Rashan Gary, LVN) a little later, and then developing them gradually.

When you generally draft later because of consistent success, you have to figure out a plan to still acquire premier talent.

The alternative is to be the Bears or until recently the Lions. You lose 75 percent of your games, get a Top 5 pick, and then draft the wrong guy anyway.

4 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

May 19, 2024 at 08:31 pm

I don't really think that's the case with Edge rushers. The hit rate in the 2nd round isn't much lower than the 1st and for every Myles Garrett there's a 4th round Maxx Crosby. Danielle Hunter and Trey Hendrickson were both 3rd round picks. I think it's probably more true for DTs but the best one in the league now was a 2nd rounder.

2 points
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Cheezehead72's picture

May 20, 2024 at 06:03 am

Why would you think that LVN would play as an off the ball LB. That would be a waste. If that happens on a regular basis I will be calling for Hafley's and MLF's immediate termination.

2 points
3
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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

May 21, 2024 at 01:01 pm

Anyone who doubts LVN does not recognize talent and football desire to be the best. Going to be fun watching this guy hopefully through a 2nd contract with the GBP's.

Yes, I admittedly believed in the 2023 draft the Packers needed an OT in round 1. It was based on my perception of need but Walker and Tom sure showed me my perception was incorrect. Gutey was 100% spot on bypassing an OT in round 1 in 2023 and drafting LVN. This year LVN will flourish and be a highlight reel. Timing of the selection was perfect. I would be surprised to see Preston (Mr. Reliable) back in 2025 but if he plays well I'd sure like it if contractually the Packers are able to work out a reasonable deal for all. With Clark's situation next year big decisions coming...

0 points
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