On third-and-13 with just over nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, Lukas Van Ness lined up in a two-point stance opposite of Peter Skoronski. The Iowa redshirt freshman defensive lineman bullrushed right through the Northwestern left tackle and delivered a hit on the quarterback in the Hawkeyes’ 17-12 win over the Wildcats on November 6, 2021.
For a majority of that 2021 season, Van Ness played mostly defensive tackle. But that single rep showcased the versatility the now 6-foot-5, 272-pound defensive end has to offer.
“I really didn’t do much preparation for playing outside that game,” Van Ness said at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “They bumped me outside. As you guys saw the result. When I can’t get around someone, I’m going to go through them.”
The Chicago Bears are in desperate need of players who can not only apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks but are also capable of stopping the run.
If general manager Ryan Poles trades down to the No. 9 overall pick with the Carolina Panthers (whether that is with one or two trades) and Van Ness is still on the board, Poles should take the Iowa Hawkeye defensive lineman with his first selection in the 2023 NFL Draft.
What stands out about Van Ness right now as a prospect is his ability to convert speed into power. Skoronski, one of the top offensive linemen in this 2023 draft class, can tell you from experience that Van Ness — who also goes by the nickname “Hercules” — has a powerful bullrush.
It also helps that Van Ness’ motor is constantly running. He never started a game at Iowa, but that was more due to Iowa’s protocol and the respect the football program has towards its upperclassmen who started instead of Van Ness.
“I had two older classmen in front of me,” Van Ness said. “That’s just kind of the way the University of Iowa does things. They’re always fair and consistent with everybody, and regardless I still had some of the higher snap (counts) on the defensive line. I just learned through this process that every time I stepped on the field, I have an opportunity to prove myself.”
According to The Athletic, as a redshirt sophomore last season, Van Ness still played the most snaps of all Iowa defensive linemen and totaled 6.5 sacks — tied for the most on the team. In two seasons, he finished with 70 total tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.
Van Ness’ versatility is another plus that coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams could use to their advantage. With 34-inch arms and the power Van Ness possesses, he is more than capable of sliding inside. This provides options for a defense that had practically none last season.
Whether Van Ness is applying pressure on the quarterback from the edge or interior or simply taking on blockers, he can provide a lot for a defense. Someone who can attest to that is Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell.
“Yeah, as a linebacker we depend on the defensive linemen,” Campbell said. “The defensive linemen don’t depend on anyone but themselves. I feel like that is kind of unique because a lot of people don’t realize that. … With Lukas Van Ness, like first and foremost a great guy, a great human being, but also a hell of a football player and I feel like his potential is through the roof. But I would say just being able to play behind guys like that just made my job easier and I’m grateful for those guys. They all know that.”
When it comes to a preferred trait that Eberflus is looking for in an edge rusher, he highlighted a prospect’s “ability to turn the corner.” The 3-cone drill is a great indicator if in fact a defensive lineman can show flexibility and body control. Van Ness finished second among edge rushers in the 3-cone with 7.02 seconds. He also had the second-best 20-yard shuttle at 4.32 seconds — which also displays a prospect’s ability to change direction, accelerate and decelerate.
Even though there is a lot to like about Van Ness, there is no debate he still has plenty to learn as well. He needs to add more pass rush moves, learn how to disengage more effectively from blocks and just get more playing experience.
But there is so much upside and potential with player who is not anywhere close to being a finished product. If Poles values potential over production, than Van Ness should be his guy.
Van Ness is from Barrington, Ill., and grew up as a Bears fan. His girlfriend is the younger sister of tight end Cole Kmet. And the Bears need a disruptive defensive lineman. Let’s see come April if there is another connection the Bears and Van Ness can potentially add.
“I’ve never started a game at Iowa,” Van Ness said. “So I’m looking forward to getting that first start at the next level. So coming in with a chip on my shoulder, I’m ready to just put my nose down and work.”