Despite all the praise that Brian Gutekunst and the Green Bay front office have received for their 2023 draft class, one question keeps popping up. Was Lukas Van Ness a reach?
“There’s no doubt Van Ness has first-round upside with his raw pass-rush skills, standing out with his explosiveness and relentless in getting after the quarterback.” Wrote Vinnie Iver of The Sporting News. “But he’s also a bit of a project with limited experience for a team that had more pressing offensive needs at wide receiver, tight end and tackle to boost new young starting quarterback Jordan Love.”
This sentiment, which isn’t uncommon, found its way to Mark Murphy. Murphy, who has a monthly column for packers.com where he answers fan questions, responded to a fan who asked if he and the Packers were concerned about Van Ness having never started at Iowa.
“Brian and his staff do an excellent job preparing for the draft. It is exciting to see all their work come together. With regard to your question, I would not be concerned that Van Ness wasn’t a starter. He redshirted his first year, and only played two seasons at Iowa. His head coach at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz, is a bit of a traditionalist, and he started upperclassmen ahead of Van Ness.
Van Ness played a lot of snaps in both seasons and was usually on the field during the key parts of the game. It is more important to be a finisher than a starter. Also, we heard similar concerns when we drafted Clay Matthews, and he turned out to be a great player for us.”
Although I appreciate Murphy’s sentiment, and agree that Van Ness is potentially a great pick, the Matthews comparison might be a bit of a stretch. Matthews was more of a known commodity as an athlete and playmaker coming out of USC. His Defensive Player of the Game performance in the Rose Bowl, where USC defeated Penn State 38-24, officially cemented Matthews as a force to be reckoned with. And still his pick was heavily criticized. It makes sense that those clamoring for an offensive playmaker would question someone who is seen by many as a project.
Nonetheless, adding Van Ness’ sort of freak athleticism to a defensive line that has Rashan Gary returning from injury is never a bad thing. As the NFL continues to evolve, speed and versatility on the defensive line are key. That is who Van Ness is at his core. Having played DT early in his career at Iowa before moving to edge should allow him to get on the field early in Green Bay and makes an impact.
And Van Ness himself is saying all the right things. Here he is discussing a desire to learn and be professional.