INDIANAPOLIS — Lukas Van Ness loves hockey.
The Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end, one of the top prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, might have sought a future in his favorite winter sport. Van Ness played hockey all the way through high school, where he led his team to the state semifinals before the pandemic shut the tournament down.
A defender, the 6-foot-5, 275 pound Van Ness had a problem, though. He kept taking penalties. A lot of penalties.
“It’s probably not good to say that over [my] last two years, I think I lead the league in penalties,” Van Ness said. “Just due to my size, unfortunately, which was kind of part of the game. There’s really not that many big kids that play hockey. So just due to my size and my weight. I was able to sustain a lot of penalties that in my eyes I don’t think we’re fair.”
In 2017-18, Van Ness played in 27 games with the Barrington Broncos. He scored no goals, had two assists and recorded a whopping 56 penalty minutes.
Luckily for Van Ness, he’s found something that seems to suit his size a little bit better in playing defensive line. But he’s still very much a hockey player at heart.
“I think I attest to hockey a lot of my balance skills and my balance that I have today. Hockey requires a lot of agility. It’s a hard sport to play. It’s very physical. It’s very demanding. A lot of those attributes contribute to the football player that I am today.”
Van Ness was a three-star prospect that went from his suburban Chicago home to Iowa for football with relatively little fanfare. But consistent hard work and dedication to his craft turned Van Ness into a top pro prospect.
“At the University of Iowa, we played in a really pro-style defense,” Van Ness said. “They’re really based on fundamentals, playing the game the right way, having a responsibility and executing your responsibility.”
Van Ness started out at defensive tackle in the Hawkeyes’ 4-3 scheme before moving to defensive end in his senior season. He feels that his versatility provides a leg up for him on the rest of the draft class in that some teams see him as an interior lineman and others as an edge rusher.
“I think I have the ability to play all over the defensive line,” Van Ness said. “I’ve played defensive tackle and then this year, I played a little bit more defensive end. But I believe I bring everything to the table in terms of playing the run and playing the pass. I’ll play wherever a coach needs me to play.”
One of the players that he modeled his game after also had a habit of moving all around the defensive line. J.J. Watt, who is also 6-foot-5, and underweight for a defensive tackle at 288, is the player that Van Ness modeled his game after.
“I guy a loved to watch on Sundays was J.J. Watt. Although he’s not playing anymore, it was a guy I loved turning on the tape every Sunday, watching his game and trying to model myself after him.”
Van Ness was never supposed to be a star when he went to Iowa, and it turns out that though his NFL star is shining brightly, he never even started a game for the Hawkeyes. He was used as a rotational player his entire career, both at tackle and end, coming off the bench for every game.
“I was happy with the rotation and the organization that we had,” Van Ness said. “I’m looking forward to getting that first at the next level. Coming in with a chip on my shoulder, I’m ready to put my nose down and get to work.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Listed by Iowa: 6-foot-5, 275 pounds
LUKAS VAN NESS SCOUTING REPORT
Van Ness has a great combination of length and athleticism. He uses his 6-foot-5 frame very well and is good at setting the edge against run plays from the defensive end position.
“In the Big Ten West, we had a lot of run games,” Van Ness said. “You had to love the run. It was one of the favorite parts of the game for me, getting to line up from the guy across from you, coming out of your hips, blowing them up and setting the edge. It’s probably one of my favorite parts of the game.”
At tackle, he can be driven back against the run, but excels in pass rush games.
HOW DOES HE FIT?
In the Steelers’ base 3-4, Van Ness would be a five-technique in the mold of a Brett Keisel. He said he expects to weigh in at 275 pounds, which would probably make him a bit too slight to be a regular tackle in the Steelers’ four-man Nickel and Dime fronts. But he did play there in college and said that experience made him more dangerous on the edge.
“Everything happens a little faster inside,” Van Ness said. “You’ve got to be a little faster with your hands, lower with your pad level, but it taught me all the fundamentals of playing good defensive line and I think that really translated to my outside play. I can play with good leverage, by physical, and I attribute a lot to my years before of playing inside.”
The Steelers have a bigger need when it comes to defensive tackle than defensive end, where Cam Heyward also plays and DeMarvin Leal and Isaiahh Loudermilk serve as depth. But Heyward is not getting any younger and took two years to develop into a starter himself, so drafting his future replacement isn’t a crazy idea.
WHERE WILL LUKAS VAN NESS BE DRAFTED?
Van Ness has climbed from the late part of the third round to the late part of the first round since the end of his season. He is currently the No. 22 pick, according to NFL Mock Draft Database.
The Steelers might be able to trade down from No. 17 and get Van Ness with a pick in the early 20s, or trade up from No. 33 to get him in the late 20s.