Packers: Realistic rookie expectations for Lukas Van Ness

For Packers rookie defensive end Lukas Van Ness, his path to starting won't be immediate, but he'll have substantial opportunities to make an impact.
Green Bay Packers Offseason Workout
Green Bay Packers Offseason Workout / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

After being selected 13th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, Lukas Van Ness enters his rookie season with all the tools to become a three-down weapon.

Green Bay was enamored with Van Ness's size, strength, and speed throughout the draft process, so much so that they bypassed the opportunity to select the first wide receiver off the board to help Jordan Love. 

Despite starting zero games at Iowa in 2022, Van Ness logged the third-most pressures in the Big Ten (46), a team-high 11 tackles for loss, and his 6.5 sacks tied for the team lead. 

Similar to Packers star linebacker Rashan Gary, Van Ness leads with violent hands, packs a lethal punch, and has produced at different spots across the defensive line.

Also, like Gary, he enters the league with the ability to blow up the run but will need time to develop counter pass rush moves to be most effective.

When setting expectations for Van Ness's rookie campaign, it's easy to set a high bar, but there's reason for pause when dreaming about a 10-sack season or defensive rookie of the year.

That's not to say he's incapable of achieving either with proper playing time or should be labeled a bust if he doesn't. But like Gary's rookie season ceding most of his opportunities to the Smith Bros., Van Ness will rotate behind Gary and Preston Smith to begin his career.

What can we expect from Lukas Van Ness in rookie season with Packers?

So what does a "successful" rookie season look like for Van Ness?

Considering there have only been 25 rookies all-time with 10.5 or more sacks, it's reasonable to anticipate that Van Ness will finish below that line regardless of playing time.

In fact, only nine rookies since the 2020 class have registered over four sacks in their inaugural season, and it required Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson playing the second-most snaps among all edge defenders (953) to register 9.5 sacks as a rookie in 2022.

With limited snaps as a rookie, a more determining success factor to watch for Van Ness will be his pass-rush win percentage and pressure rating.

An elite pass-rush win percentage comes around 20-25% if we look at 2022 stats. Per PFF, Cleveland Browns star pass rusher Myles Garret registered a league-high 25.6%, while Gary posted a 20.9% for Green Bay before his season-ending injury.

For those who played at least 50% of their team's pass rush snaps, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons led the NFL with a 19.27% pressure rate in 2022.

With only 26 rookie defensive ends producing 40 or more pressures since 2011, it would be difficult to gripe about the results if Van Ness posts a double digit pass-rush win percentage and a pressure rate above 10%.

Per NFL Rookie Watch on X, heading into December of the 2022 season, Kayvon Thibodeaux led all rookies in pass-rush win rate at 14.5%. Travon Walker, the first overall pick in 2022 for Jacksonville, was sitting at 9.2%.

As Van Ness walks down a similar path as Gary, who finished with two sacks as a rookie, it's realistic to expect he records a single-digit sack season. But that doesn't indicate a failed season or a lack of dominant play.

Those who labeled Gary a bust after his rookie season were sorely mistaken, and Gary has high praise for the 2023 rookie.

"We call him Hercules. It's all in his name. Great effort, very strong and all ripped man, he's hungry for knowledge. When we see a kid like that, that's young, that's hungry for knowledge and doesn't think he's got it made, that's the type of kid we want. That's the type of kids we have been grabbing. Lukas, he's going to be one hell of a player for us," said Gary.

Green Bay figures to utilize Van Ness's positional versatility, so expect him to rotate in along the defensive line and draw occasional starts throughout 2023.

Others like Kingsley Enagbare, Colby Wooden, and Karl Brooks are making their presences felt for play time, but Van Ness should be the first man up if additional opportunities become available.

Projection: 4-5 sacks

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