Iowa defenseman Lukas Van Ness has begun to earn recognition for his outstanding play. He’s also among the biggest movers on the 2023 NFL draft boards. Van Ness, or “Hercules” as his teammates call him, has been one of the Hawkeyes’ most versatile defensemen over the past two seasons.
Van Ness has totaled 64 tackles and 13 sacks over the past two seasons. After playing most of his snaps in defensive tackle last season, Iowa decided to bring him back to the edge, which is his natural position. There were highlights from Van Ness overpowering Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski and Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., who will be among the top offensive linemen drafted in the upcoming draft.
His performance came as a surprise to viewers, but not to him or his teammates. His combination of height, football IQ, athleticism and power is a tough combination for any offensive lineman. Van Ness didn’t play defensive tackle in high school but was there almost exclusively last year.
“He’s got long arms,” defensive line coach Kelvin Bell said this fall. “He’s got a little more time outside to develop and I think you’ll see a little bit more of his sporting ability. But I think that year that he’s spent inside has really helped him learn what the offense is trying to do to him and it really carries over to the outside. But it gives us an element of length on the outside and a little more athleticism on the outside, which is always welcome.
On Tuesday, Van Ness was made available to the media for the first time this season. He usually has a class clash on Tuesdays, which is when student-athletes are interviewed. When asked directly about his NFL draft buzz, Van Ness shot him down.
“I haven’t looked at (the draft) yet,” said Van Ness. “I think that’s a decision that needs to be reviewed after the season. I love this program, I love it here and I have no interest in leaving.”
“Van Ness’ Bull Rush is deadly, but NFL blockers are a lot better at anchoring than the linemen he’s facing now,” BleacherReport wrote about Van Ness. “Even so, it’s much easier to develop a secondary or even tertiary move than it is to improve functional playing strength. And Van Ness has that in spades.”
It’s been quite a climb for Van Ness, who was one of the underrecruited defensemen in the Midwest. He stopped offers Air Force, Army, Bowling Green, Brown, Central Michigan, Columbia, Cornell, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Holy Cross, Illinois, Kansas, Kansas State, Lehigh, Minnesota, Navy, Northern Illinois, Ohio, Princeton, South Dakota, Southern Illinois, Tulane, UT-Martin, West Illinois, West Michigan and others. But he wasn’t very popular among the Power Five schools.
“It starts with Coach [Kelvin] Bell,” said Van Ness. “The way he runs things and the film. He’s a great coach, great at his fundamentals and great at the breakup. All things had to be a great defender. I think we all took confidence and believed in what he was saying and it worked out for everyone in the room.”
The Hawkeye line of defense has a chance to make an even bigger move in 2023 when Van Ness returns for another season. Iowa will likely return Yahya Black, Aaron Graves, Deontae Craig and several other key options for another season. Van Ness has a chance to cement himself as a first-rounder with a big 2023.
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