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Lukas Van Ness
NFL Draft

Lukas Van Ness Has Chip On His Shoulder, QBs In His Sights

  • Jack McKessy
  • March 1, 2023
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INDIANAPOLIS—The University of Iowa’s football program had its own version of “Hercules” over the last two years in edge defender Lukas Van Ness. But in those two years with the Hawkeyes, Van Ness didn’t start a single one of the 27 games he played.

“I had two upperclassmen in front of me. That’s just the way the University of Iowa does things,” Van Ness said at the NFL Combine on Wednesday. “Regardless, I still had some of the higher snaps on the defensive line, and I learned through this process that every time I step on the field, I have an opportunity to prove myself.” 

It’s with that mentality that Van Ness made a name for himself at Iowa, playing on the interior of the defensive line as a redshirt freshman before transitioning to the edge this past season. Over his two seasons of action, the former Hawkeye recorded 19.5 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks, showing off his functional strength and explosiveness in addition to the obvious versatility he has having played inside and on the edge.

Van Ness attributes a lot of the skills he brought to the edge-rusher role this season to the time he spent on the interior in 2021. On the inside, he said, players have to be better with their hands and lower with their pad level to beat opposing blockers on the interior. When he did make the transition to the edge, the leverage and physicality he had learned to play with translated well to pass-rushing from the outside.

He also attributes some of his traits to the time he spent playing hockey, the sport he focused on for most of his life growing up. Van Ness was a hard-hitting defender on the ice and translated some of that experience and the balance he developed during his hockey career into football when he started playing in eighth grade.

“Hockey requires a lot of agility. It’s a hard sport to play, it’s very physical, it’s very demanding. And a lot of those attributes contribute to the player I am today on the football field,” Van Ness said.

In addition to all of the traits he developed as he grew up and while he was in college, the Iowa product has had his fair share of battle testing against high-quality opponents. Playing in the Big Ten, Van Ness got some great experience rushing against some of the best offensive tackle prospects in college football: Ohio State’s Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson Jr. as well as Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski. He’s been tested by some of the best competition college football had to offer and, at least a few times came out on top.

Van Ness may have limited experience playing football and no experience as a starter past high school, but those factors could be blessings in disguise for NFL teams.

For one thing, the lack of football experience—having only played since eighth grade—lends itself to Van Ness’ malleability as a prospect. At Iowa, that meant Van Ness was able to prove his versatility, beginning his college career as an interior defender, building up his skills there, then transitioning nearly seamlessly to the outside and developing his pass-rush repertoire as an edge rusher. Van Ness stated he would feel comfortable playing “wherever a coach needs me to play” at the next level, and that’s a nice thing to have for teams that need general help on their defensive front.

For another, Van Ness’ lack of starts in college did nothing but motivate him even more. As mentioned earlier, he noted that he still got a bulk of defensive snaps despite not technically being a starter for the Hawkeyes. The lack of starts wasn’t about a lack of talent but rather the presence of upperclassmen on the team. When he joins his next team at the NFL level, Van Ness will get a chance to prove that he deserved those starts all along.

“I’m coming in with a chip on my shoulder and just ready to put my nose down and work,” Van Ness said.

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Jack McKessy