Packers rookie already labeled a bust, but is that fair?

Lukas Van Ness, Green Bay Packers (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Lukas Van Ness, Green Bay Packers (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

One NFL pundit predicted bust status for Green Bay Packers rookie Lukas Van Ness. Let’s pump the breaks. 

With Aaron Rodgers’ departure, the storied Green Bay Packers franchise is embarking on a new chapter. It may take some time to figure out the direction of this new team. Jordan Love still doesn’t have his sea legs. The offense is peppered with young and unfamiliar faces. The defense, too, is battling injuries and inexperience.

One source of inexperience is rookie Lukas Van Ness, the edge rusher Green Bay selected with the No. 13 pick in April’s NFL Draft. The Iowa product looks the part on paper — 6-foot-5, 272 pounds with tremendous burst and physicality. However, he is considered a project who lacks the polished fundamentals to contribute immediately in the NFL.

That led Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine to single out Van Ness as the potential “biggest bust” of Green Bay’s 2023 season.

"“While [Devonte] Wyatt was expected to be an impact player in Year 1 he never quite got there. He had just 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks and played 23 percent of the defensive snaps. Those numbers should all go up this season but the rookie season was definitely under expectations.There’s a lot of reason to believe Van Ness could follow a similar arc. The 6’5″, 272-pounder was not a starter for the Iowa defense and has a lot of refinement he needs to do to build his pass-rushing repertoire. In college, he got away with dominating because of his length and strength.”"

Bleacher Report predicts Lukas Van Ness as Packers’ biggest bust for 2023 season

There is nothing wrong with Ballentine’s general point here. Van Ness didn’t start at Iowa, so he will undeniably face a steep learning curve in the NFL. He’s not expected to start for Green Bay either, with Preston Smith and Rashan Gray ahead of him on the Packers’ depth chart.

Ballentine is predicting a conflict between expectation and reality. It’s natural for fans to get extremely excited about their top-13 pick. If Van Ness spends most of the season riding the pine and taking second team reps in practice — especially on a rebuilding team — that will irk even the most determinedly rational fans.

The other side of this argument is that if Van Ness isn’t falling short of reasonable expectations, how can he be considered a bust? The definition of ‘bust’ is key here, and there are probably a few different interpretations out there. In the end, it’s impossible to separate ‘bust’ status from expectations, as every sports argument ultimately boils down to how a player performed relative to what was expected of him.

With Van Ness, however, he’s entering his rookie season. No reasonable expectation would involve him achieving immediate star status, and frankly, no reasonable expectation would involve much more than what Packers rookie Devonte Wyatt achieved last season. Ballentine makes the comparison for a reason: Wyatt played 23 percent of defensive snaps as a rookie, but he’s going to see an increased workload in year two. That’s completely normal for a young player. Expect Van Ness to work his way up the depth chart in a similar fashion.

Ultimately, your mileage on the ‘bust’ projections will depend on how high your hopes are for Van Ness in the immediate future. If you’re dead set on projecting a Rookie of the Year season, then you’re opening yourself up to disappointment in a way Ballentine, who thinks of Van Ness as a fringe rotation piece, is not.

The NFL is full of surprises. Packers fans would throw a party in the streets if Van Ness can contribute at a high volume straight away, and it’s not impossible. It just doesn’t seem very likely is all.

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