GREEN BAY, Wis. – The University of Wisconsin cranks out NFL offensive linemen with the efficiency of a factory.
Over the last couple decades, Wisconsin has earned the mantle of Offensive Line U with a line of studs ranging from future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas to longtime Green Bay Packers standout Mark Tauscher.
The latest off the assembly line, Packers sixth-round pick Cole Van Lanen, might not be of the same standard.
“He’s a Wisconsin-ish-type lineman,” a scouting director said.
There seemed to be no “ish” at the start of his career. A member of the prestigious U.S. Army All-American team while at nearby Bay Port High School, Van Lanen dominated as a quasi-starter during his redshirt sophomore season of 2018. He took a big step backward in 2019, though, and that season dogged him throughout the evaluation process.
“He’s nowhere near as good as the guys they’ve put out in the past,” the scouting director continued.
An area scout agreed with that assessment. There’s no doubting Van Lanen’s talent level, the scout said. The questions revolve around Van Lanen’s mental toughness and the intangibles that separate good linemen from the great ones.
“He’s talented,” the scout said. “Cole’s much more talented than where he went. His best year was 2018 and he had a good bounce-back year this year, but he’s dealt with some little nagging injuries that he let pull him down. When you think of gritty – I don’t want to kill the kid – but when you think of gritty Wisconsin O-linemen, they were always a little disappointed in that, which is why he slid.”
Van Lanen started 18 games at left tackle during his final two seasons, including 13 starts in 2019. While he helped pave the way for a second consecutive 2,000-yard rushing season by Jonathan Taylor, he was taken to the woodshed by Ohio State’s Chase Young. In a regular-season matchup, Young piled up four sacks and five tackles for losses. That wasn’t all on Van Lanen but it was a black mark on a season in which he allowed five sacks and 15 total pressures in 271 pass-protecting snaps (4.0 percent), according to Pro Football Focus.
He was much better in 2020, though. In five games, he allowed one sack and three total pressures (1.7 percent).
Wisconsin assistant Joe Rudolph, the Badgers’ offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, chalked up his poor 2019 season to coming off hip surgery. “If you haven’t been injured before and you’re coming off of an injury, it’s different,” he said. “I thought this year he was back to form.”
If that’s the case, the Packers could have a steal on their hands.
“He hasn’t taken the steps since 2018 to be a second- or third-round pick,” the area scout said. “But there is a talented kid there. If he figures it out, he could be a swing tackle and maybe be an eventual starter. If he starts at right (tackle) this year, it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Another scout thought Van Lanen had a chance to make it with a move to guard. That scout didn’t see the agility to thrive on the outside, noting the regularity with which he got beat with inside moves. The lack of elite lateral agility would be mitigated with a move to guard.
“I think he’s got the toughness to be a starting guard,” that scout said. “Not this year – he needs to get a lot stronger, but that will happen over the course of this season and then the offseason going into ’22. The question is his upside. He was coached well so there’s not a big leap to be made there. Another year past the (hip) injury, will that be the difference? Or is he just a guy who’s always going to be dinged up with one thing or another? He lasted more than 200 picks [No. 214] so you know what the league thinks.”
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