The most popular choices of position for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round draft pick are cornerback and offensive tackle. But those aren’t the only options. And some would even opt for another position in terms of need. Like defensive end. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ray Fittipaldo made the case not only for defensive end, but also for, specifically, Lukas Van Ness out of Iowa.
But first he had to make the case for the position. “I think it’s a top-three need for them. I’m not saying it’s gonna be Van Ness at 17, but I could make a very good argument that it should be if he is still on the board”, he said on 93.7 The Fan with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller. And then he proposed a scenario.
“At this moment, before the draft, what would happen if either Cam Heyward or Larry Ogunjobi got hurt right now? Who would step in and play? There’s not a good answer”, he argued, discussing DeMarvin Leal and how the team has focused on his versatility as his strength, and suggesting he wouldn’t be the ideal option to replace a defensive end with a long-term injury.
Of course, Van Ness himself has something of a tweener body as Leal did coming out. There are those who believe that he might be better suited dropping weight to play 3-4 outside linebacker. Others think he would fit at end putting on weight. Fittipaldo sees the latter, even if it might be a process.
“He’ll be a fit if he can add 10-15 pounds over a year or so, and that may not happen in year one”, he admitted, but he believes in the talent. “I just think he’s your prototypical five-technique that they’re looking for once he adds that extra weight”.
Projecting a bodily transformation always comes with some risk, even if one is reasonably confident about a player’s ability to make that adjustment. And when you’re doing it in the first round, it’s even more daunting. The Steelers, for example, used to get their heavy outside linebackers in the mid to late rounds and have them drop weight. Now they have to go in the first round. But Van Ness is certainly talented.
“I know he tested like a freak. I understand the 40 time. He was really good on the edge at Iowa this past season. But he played inside at Iowa as a junior and he did very well inside. His bull rush is awesome, he’s strong, so there’s a lot more to his game than just the freaky athleticism stuff that has him being mocked in the first round”, Fittipaldo insisted, who also pointed out that he was probably among the first to mock him to the Steelers back in January or February.
The only thing he stressed is that making the decision to draft him means being patient and taking the time to develop him right, including his body. But that would fit what the Steelers need right now, with Heyward and Ogunjobi plugged into the starting lineup. Right now he could be a super-sub, and even play out of a two-point stance off the edge in a mixed role as he puts on weight.