Packers take pass-rusher Van Ness at No. 13 in NFL draft

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers’ lack of pass-rushing depth was apparent when they struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks after Rashan Gary tore his anterior cruciate ligament last November.

They are confident Lukas Van Ness can help change that.

Rather than getting a pass catcher for new starting quarterback Jordan Love in the opening round, the Packers selected Van Ness with the 13th overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night. Van Ness was in Wisconsin when he got the news while watching the draft from Fontana, where his parents have a home.

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“I couldn't ask for a better result,” said Van Ness, who prepared for the draft by working out in California with a group that included Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark. “I'm so happy to be Packer. I can't wait to get out there and wear that green.”

Green Bay began the week with the No. 15 overall pick in the draft, but they moved up two spots as part of the blockbuster trade that sent four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets.

That trade also brought the Packers a second-round selection (No. 42 overall) and sixth-round pick in this year’s draft, plus a conditional 2024 second-round pick that could become a first-rounder if Rodgers plays 65% of the Jets’ snaps this season. The Packers are sending a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft to the Jets.

Green Bay's pass-rushing ability took a hit late last season without Gary, whose status for the start of the upcoming season remains uncertain. Gary had six sacks in nine games, Preston Smith had a team-high 8 1/2 sacks and nobody else had more than four last season.

Van Ness showed his explosiveness by getting a combined 13 1/2 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in two seasons at Iowa. Van Ness did all that without starting a single game for the Hawkeyes.

“I've gotten this question thousands of times over the last few months,” Van Ness said. “I was very happy with the way my time at Iowa went. It's just the Iowa way. I had two great fifth-year seniors in front of me who did the time and gave the years to the program.”

Van Ness’ remarkable emergence at Iowa has the Packers optimistic about his long-term upside.

The former high school hockey player said he was 220 pounds when he arrived at Iowa in 2020 and redshirted during the pandemic-shortened season. He now is listed at 272 and has a physique that earned him the nickname “Hercules.”

Van Ness also showed plenty of versatility at Iowa by lining up at both tackle and end.

This marked just the second time in the last 14 drafts that the Packers have selected among the top 15 overall picks. The Packers drafted Gary 12th overall in 2019.

After going 8-9 and missing the playoffs last season to end a string of three straight playoff appearances, the Packers are entering a new post-Rodgers era with Love as their starting quarterback.

Love could use some more weapons.

Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, who are entering their second seasons, are the only Packers wideouts under contract who had at least 100 yards receiving in 2023. Josiah Deguara, who had 13 catches for 114 yards last season, is the top tight end under contract.

But it shouldn't come as a surprise the Packers addressed defense instead in the first round.

Green Bay hasn’t selected a wide receiver in the first round since taking Florida State’s Javon Walker 20th overall in 2002 and hasn’t used a first-round pick on a tight end since selecting Miami’s Bubba Franks at No. 14 in 2000.

The last offensive player Green Bay drafted in the first round was Love himself, who went 26th overall in 2020 when the Packers traded up four spots to get him. He was the first offensive player the Packers had taken in the opening round since selecting Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod at No. 32 overall in 2011.

The Packers have three of the top 45 overall selections in the draft, giving them plenty of opportunities to boost a roster that has more holes than usual since salary-cap issues prevented them from being very active on the free-agent market. ___

AP NFL: and

Steve Megargee, The Associated Press

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