Where Does Lukas Van Ness Fit into the Packers New Defense?

The Green Bay Packers selected Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Van Ness did not start as a rookie, but certainly showed flashes of the athletic ability that caused GM Brian Gutekunst to select him with the 13th overall pick in round 1.

For his rookie campaign, Van Ness played in all 17 games for the Packers. He was on the field for 33 percent of the team’s defensive snaps which placed him fourth among Green Bay edge rushers behind starters Rashan Gary and Preston Smith and second-year man, Kingsley Enagbare.

In his first season, Van Ness made 32 total tackles including eight tackles for loss. He sacked opposing quarterbacks four times and recorded 10 quarterback hits.

Van Ness showed off his outstanding athleticism as a rookie. He still needs to work on developing more moves as a pass rusher and to hone his technique. That hopefully will come as he gains additional experience.

The Packers actually played Van Ness more frequently on running downs so he could use his speed to track down ball carriers and make plays.

Heading into year two, Van Ness can expect to receive more playing time than he did in 2023. He has one more year of experience. Plus, with Enagbare expected to miss the start of the 2024 campaign after suffering a serious knee injury in the playoffs, that alone should move Van Ness up at least one spot on the depth chart.

Head coach Matt LaFleur was impressed by what Van Ness showed in his first NFL season even though the plan was to bring him along slowly, much the way they did with Rashan Gary when he was drafted in 2019.

“I think he’s done a great job. He’s really come in he’s worked his tail off,” LaFleur said midway through the season. “He’s been able to grasp what we’ve asked him to do. So, I think he’s going to continue to get better and better and better. I’m really excited about what the future holds for him.”

Now that the Packers have fired Joe Barry and brought in Jeff Hafley as their new defensive coordinator, the team will be changing to a four-man defensive front as opposed to the three-man front they’ve been running for decades. How will this affect the way the team utilizes Van Ness going forward?

The change should actually give Van Ness more opportunities to get on the field. At Iowa, Van Ness played a lot of defensive line. The Hawkeyes would line him up in different positions along the line to create mismatches and give Van Ness the biggest advantage possible.

Now, instead of just lining up as an outside linebacker or edge rusher, Van Ness can line up at defensive end, or defensive tackle. He can also play linebacker where his speed can help him track down ball carriers and help stuff the run. If Hafley is expected to use a 4-2-5 base defense, having Quay Walker and Van Ness as the linebackers gives the Pack two fast players who can cover a lot of ground at the second level of the defense.

Van Ness can also line up as a defensive end in the new alignment and rush the passer. He had his hand on the ground often in college, so he is familiar with what it takes to play that position. Having Van Ness, Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, and Kenny Clark all on the field together as part of the front four gives Hafley and the defensive coaches a lot of potential options to rush the passer. They can change the positioning of those players around and incorporate stunts and blitzes to further confuse offensive coaches and players.

Add fellow 2023 draft picks Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks to the mix along with T.J. Slaton and Devonte Wyatt and the team has a potentially strong group of pass rushers who hopefully will also do a better job of defending the run.

Assuming he can make the adjustment, the future holds a lot of potential for Lukas Van Ness in 2024 and beyond.

 

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9 points
 

Comments (32)

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

February 24, 2024 at 12:36 pm

I actually like Karl Brooks as part of that starting 4 instead of Smith. I know some down votes are heading my way here, but this scheme doesn't fit Smith or his age. I absolutely love Smith too. There really isn't anything bad to say about him. I just think Brooks is a better fit and I like his youth and how he plays. People sometimes hate change, myself included at times. But I see this as a time where change from Smith to someone else (Brooks) has arrived. Either way, I'm insanely excited to see this defense take the field in 2024 and beyond.

9 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

February 24, 2024 at 01:59 pm

You are correct in your assessment. Karl is a 4-2/3, Defensive End with a solid foundation. He should have seen the field more last season. Barry and Montgomery are out the door. See if this group can stop the run. I still push K.Sweat to control the middle of the D-line.

-1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 24, 2024 at 02:30 pm

From Justis Mosqueda at ACME:
"Some might want to see Brooks and Wooden get a shot at defensive end, but that’s now how Jeff Hafley’s 4-3 defense is expected to operate.

Hafley’s 4-3 defense should mimic what the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans and New York Jets are running under defensive coaches from the same coaching tree. The idea that the Packers will now want big, edge-setting defensive ends is simply not rooted in reality.

Look at who these teams have added recently. The Houston Texans traded up to the third overall pick to select pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr., who is listed at 243 pounds, in last years draft. The New York Jets rush the passer with 255-pounder Bryce Huff and 2023 first-round pick Will McDonald, who comes in at just 241pounds"

I think Brooks could see some snaps at DE simply because he could be a better pass rusher than whoever the 4th DE is until Enagbare returns. Justis is pretty adamant he won't and I'm sure he's spent a lot more time looking into it than us fans have.

https://www.acmepackingcompany.com/2024/2/19/24077261/green-bay-packers-...

3 points
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splitpea1's picture

February 24, 2024 at 12:43 pm

With Enagbare out, Van Ness should be able to significantly increase his defensive snap total, maybe to almost double that of his rookie season. I understand his versatility and athleticism makes him a sort of chess piece in the defensive alignments, but it would really be nice to see him seize the DE position and become a force, hopefully sooner rather than later. Using him as a LB in a 4-2-5 defense seems kind of speculative right now; I guess it's an option, but I think we're going to have to come up with a better solution. What that is, I don't know. I'm also not sure how much better the run defense is going to be with the current group of pass rush-heavy group of defenders- adding another hulking presence besides Slaton on the DL would probably be beneficial, but then again, who is the odd man out?

6 points
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TKWorldWide's picture

February 24, 2024 at 12:55 pm

As a defensive end, heck yes.
As a defensive tackle on passing downs, yes.
As an inside linebacker in a 4-2-5? No.
But I’ve been wrong before.

9 points
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Guam's picture

February 24, 2024 at 01:49 pm

I don't know that LVN has the lateral quickness and change of direction to play linebacker. Should be one heck of a DE though.

5 points
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PackerBO's picture

February 24, 2024 at 01:55 pm

Totally agree TKW, he is and should be a defensive end

5 points
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Duneslick's picture

February 24, 2024 at 02:12 pm

Linebacker Writer is missing the point. Does he have any coverage skills at all.

2 points
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TKWorldWide's picture

February 24, 2024 at 04:49 pm

Even with the 3-4, I never really cared if the edge rushers could play pass coverage. Would a team pass on Lawrence Taylor because he wasn’t strong in coverage? (Ok, he was probably good at that too. So maybe the question should be how much value to assign to coverage skills when evaluating edge rushers.)

I’d much rather see LVN and Gary “convert” from OLB to DE. When GB went the opposite way, they tried to make Aaron Kampman go from DE to OLB. (It didn’t work out too well.)

1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 24, 2024 at 09:40 pm

I remember LT having like a 90 yard interception return for a TD against Detroit on Thanksgiving one year. Still remember the 1st time I saw him play thinking "well that's not normal!"

2 points
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TKWorldWide's picture

February 25, 2024 at 07:42 am

Yeah, LT was a beast. Could you imagine a NY scout downgrading him for pass coverage? OK, maybe as a change-up, tendency breaker. But mainly, we want our edge rushers to, well…rush the passer.
BJ Raji, for a nose, was incredible in pass coverage as well.

1 points
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Oppy's picture

February 25, 2024 at 10:36 am

The transition from 3 point DE to upright OLB didn't go as badly as everyone seems to remember is went for Kampman.

The real issue was Kampman hated it and didn't want to do it. That was the biggest factor.

He only played 9 games before injury, and during those 9 games he had 16 QB hits. His best year playing DE he racked up 30 QB hits over 16 games. The sacks would have started coming in 2009, but he lost the season to injury.

In the end, I guess it "Didn't go well", but that was more a function of the player's resistance to change and a season ending injury, rather than an inability to make the transition.

2 points
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PackEyedOptimist's picture

February 24, 2024 at 01:36 pm

I think Gary, VanNess, and Wooden can be a very good group of defensive ends.

3 points
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Kevin Carpenter's picture

February 24, 2024 at 09:49 pm

Can you imagine running a formation of 5-1-5 and the defense is lined up as LVN, Wyatt, Clark, Brooks and Gary on the other end? The opposing offensive lines wouldn't stand a chance.

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canadapacker's picture

February 24, 2024 at 05:39 pm

I want to see guys who can run and who can tackle - all along the D line - dont mind one or two middle run stoppers depending upon the situation - but the new defenses seem to have faster - quicker linebackers - but those with grit and that is what Van Ness brought - This is a big draft for us - both on the back end and especially in the linebacker area.

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

February 24, 2024 at 05:54 pm

How many people remember when Gary was getting bashed after his rookie year?

Van Ness is going to be a good player for us. We suit up 21 defensive guys and he'll be one, and probably one of the 11 on the field.

I'm really wondering how far his commitment to the 4-3 goes. Does it become a 4-2-5? Does it become a 3-3-5? Or even a 2-4-5? I guess I'll find out, but whatever it is, we're going to want to bring big edge pressure and Van Ness is certainly a guy who can help with that.

2 points
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PhantomII's picture

February 24, 2024 at 06:55 pm

I always liked 3-down linemen on first and second down. 3rd and long...bring the heat on the QB with an xtra DB on a blitz. I think if we get a very good Safety in FA...It will enable us to be very flexible in coverage. Gary was very slow rolled for an upper !st round pick and so has Wyatt and now Van Ness. I don't get why you have to PAY these 1st round guys like they are pro Bowlers or All Pros when they have not put up close to the numbers others do and get a big payday before they have shown much consistency because of how they have been used by lesser Defensive coaches. Gary needs to come into 2024 with his hair on fire the whole season if we are to see an improvement to scale on defense. His offseason recovery should put him returning to 100%. 1-Hog DL that has a big push and a little pass rush in him and some TFL would be good. I would not mind seeing some Wyatt on the DE position also with Van Ness on the other side on 3rd down...Maybe Gary mixed in the DL sometimes or over the nose like Z used to.

1 points
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Kevin Carpenter's picture

February 24, 2024 at 09:53 pm

It's going to vary, the biggest factor is going to be who plays DE and who plays "OLB" because technically speaking a 4-3 still has two "OLB" and one MLB. The jobs differ wildly between 4-3 and 3-4 OLB, obviously. We ran a 3-4 but it was based as a 2-4-5 because of the passing game. My guess is that Gary and LVN are going to be playing with their hands in the dirt so we will technically have a 4-3 or a 4-2. One thing is for sure, we need to invest in some talent at LB this year cause Campbell is not cutting it.

0 points
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Fubared's picture

February 24, 2024 at 09:48 pm

Normally Mr negative on this hoard, I demand a lot, I'm kind of pumped for next year. Love shocked me, Barry is gone, a new defensive scheme, maybe the best overall receiving core and I think two very good tight ends. My concern, de' s have to have quickness. Van Ness is it. We need some free agents to shore up the pass defense, plus some rookies to develope.
Look the Lions had a pass rush but it was lacking because Hendrickson didn't have anyone else to pressure, he was it.
You got to have at least four guys who can pressure and keep fresh. Pass rushers wear down and need relief.

-2 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 25, 2024 at 11:56 am

Think you mean Hutchinson. As a Vikings fan you should remember there are more opponents in the division besides the Packers and pay a little attention to them too.

1 points
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gsd3's picture

February 25, 2024 at 04:08 am

He has all the physical tools and can do type attitude to be very good. Just needs to refine his skill set a bit. I could see him approaching double digit sacks this year.
I don't know if Preston Smith can make the transition though. Hope he can, but it's an old dog new tricks kind of thing. After playing an entire career from a stand up position to a 3 point stance isn't as easy as one might think.
Gutey loves his pass rushers and I could see him surprising everyone by going DE in the 1st round. Keep the name Darius Robinson in mind.

0 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 25, 2024 at 11:59 am

Preston played DE for four years in college. I doubt he forgot how it's done.

0 points
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CoachJV's picture

February 25, 2024 at 10:18 pm

That was 9 years ago man... He's now 32 years old, it's tougher than you think to make that adjustment. Plus you have to think differently and use different skills. It's tougher than you think.

-1 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

February 25, 2024 at 07:03 am

Van Ness is going to be fun to watch in the new D. I see him as a DE and will press Preston for starting snaps...but both will be effective. Both played from a 3 point all through college so that transition won't take long.

I do not envision Van Ness ever playing LB. That would be a misuse of his talent. Smith's worst Packer season was in 2020 after Fackrell left and Pettine had Preston playing a lot of passing down pass coverage. That ended the next season and Smith returned to productivity as a pass rusher/run defender.

I see Gary, Van Ness, Preston as the top 3 for DE. Brooks can play there in a pinch (he was a stud DE in college) until Enagbare heals up...but I see Brooks as a changeup piece at DT and someone to watch there. Clark, Wyatt, Brooks, Wooden at DT looks solid. Slaton figures too but he'd probably be 5th on the depth chart at DT.

-1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 25, 2024 at 12:02 pm

Smith's worst season was 2020 because he came into camp heavier and out of shape. He was targeted 2 more times in 2020 than in 2019, not a significant difference.

0 points
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WD's picture

February 25, 2024 at 07:40 am

I love the idea of using Van Ness revolving to different positions in the front seven. In fact I suggested he be used at ILB last season to help stop the run. And, I received a smattering of thumbs down from the faithful. We will see what the new DC does. Preston Smith is aging (and may not even be signed) and Enagbare is injured. So, taking a premier edge early in the draft is plausible with Van Ness being used at ILB on early downs. Time will tell. I am feeling more optimistic about the defense already. And Yes if Darian Robinson or another premier edge is open they should be taken even in the first round without question. There is nothing wrong with taking the best available athlete. Moreover, premier edge rushers are few and far between.

0 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 25, 2024 at 12:03 pm

The new DC will not be playing him at ILB.

-1 points
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WD's picture

February 25, 2024 at 03:13 pm

Well it is true that Joe Barry would not use him as a roving LB. I like to think the new DC will be a bit more creative. I hope so. What is it you don't like about Van Ness as a roving LB? His larger size or his fast speed?

0 points
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HarryHodag's picture

February 25, 2024 at 09:44 am

His size is consistent with a 4-3 defensive end and he's likely to gain a few pounds since he likely won't be doing much pass coverage. He showed the game isn't too big for him, something that plagues some rookies.

As had been reported before, with injuries and contracts a consideration, look for the Packers to add one end during the draft and another linebacker.

0 points
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Oppy's picture

February 25, 2024 at 10:44 am

Dear everybody,

Once you call out the # of DL, and the # of LBs, there's no reason to call out the # of DB's.
It's inferred.

This is why, for example, what is referred to as "12 personnel" on offense isn't called "12251 personnel.
Once you've declared there's 1 RB and 2 TEs, there is no reason to spell out the number of wide receivers, linemen, and QB..you can deduce there's 2 WRs on the field, because you are required to have 5 ineligible players on the LOS and you've always got 1 QB on the field.

soooo... 3-4. 4-3. 5-2. You get the picture.

With sincere apologies for my inability to contain the angst and pain I feel every time I see someone post 3-4-4, I know it's not you, it's me, but damn people.. it's football and there has always been a way we go about calling out personnel on a field. Less is more.

-3 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

February 25, 2024 at 12:05 pm

867-5309

1 points
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TKWorldWide's picture

February 25, 2024 at 07:34 pm

For a good time call.

0 points
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