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K’Lavon Chaisson can be the perfect chess piece for the Jaguars’ defense

Retired defensive end Stephen White says K’Lavon Chaisson’s position matters less than how Jacksonville uses him.

An illustration of NFL edge prospect K’Lavon Chaisson running at LSU, superimposed on a red background with “SCOUTING” and “X”s and “O”s in gray lettering
K’Lavon Chaisson is one of the most versatile defenders in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Jacksonville Jaguars selected K’Lavon Chaisson with the 20th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Chaisson ahead of the draft.

K’Lavon Chaisson is the first edge rusher I’ve broken down this spring who doesn’t have that prototypical NFL size to him. He isn’t small at 6’3 and 254 pounds, but a guy with Chaisson’s build would’ve generally earned the dreaded “tweener” label back in my day (I should know, I was one).

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing now, however.

As I watched his film from LSU, I couldn’t decide if he looked more like a true linebacker, an edge rusher, or a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. After thinking it over, I decided the best way to view Chaisson is as a chess piece rather that a guy tied to any one position.

What Chaisson does well: Sets the edge

If a team wants to use him strictly as an edge rusher, I think he could handle it full time. Chaisson is strong, powerful, and was able to hold his ground better than I anticipated a player his size being able to. He certainly doesn’t look in any way undersized when he takes on offensive linemen, and his ability to set the edge was one thing that stood out to me while watching his tape.

Chaisson didn’t just run around blocks all the time. He would get full extension with his arms and constrict the B gap inside to force the runner to try to bounce it outside, where he would be sitting there just waiting to take them down.

Normally I’m not a fan of guys who shoot up the field on almost every play because that can open up holes inside, particularly on running plays. However, Chaisson was so quick to react after he got a couple of steps upfield that he still usually found a way to get in on the play without putting the rest of the defense at risk.

His ability to escape off of blocks to get to the ball carrier was also impressive, especially when setting the edge. I see Chaisson as a very good run defender, and one who will end up making a lot of tackles behind the line of scrimmage because of his approach to playing the run. It also doesn’t hurt that he has a fantastic motor and is relentless in his pursuit of the ball.

In addition to all that, Chaisson is cat quick with his lateral movements. When he stunts inside, he can be as much, or even more, of a problem as he is when he shoots straight up the field.

Not only will he not be a liability against the run, I actually think people will have to account for him in the running game just like they will when he rushes the passer. I saw several teams leave Chaisson unblocked on running plays, expecting to be able to bait him into not reading his keys. It didn’t turn out well for pretty much any of them.

Regardless of how tall he is, or how much he weighs, I don’t have any knocks on Chaisson as a run defender. Hell, I’d trust him on the edge more than I would many bigger guys, and I think he will only improve once he gets in the league.

What Chaisson does well: His speed rush

Chaisson’s athleticism is even more on display when he rushes the passer, and it jumps right off the screen. On tape I saw a guy who can definitely make some noise off the edge. His get-off, speed, quickness, and ability to bend make him a major headache for any offensive tackle trying to keep Chaisson off their quarterback.

The fact he can turn a tight corner while keeping his balance gives him the potential to be special as a speed rusher. And once he gets tackles bailing out of their stances to try to keep up with that speed, that’s when Chaisson can unleash his counter moves to use their momentum against them.

With a nice, crisp spin move in his toolbox, along with a more than decent long-arm move, Chaisson makes sure tackles can’t get comfortable just trying to set for his speed rushes. If they were a hair slow getting kicking back out their stance, he could be around them in an instant. If they overcommitted to stopping his speed rush outside, he could shoot inside of them before they could blink.

The crazy thing about it is Chaisson spent a lot of time dropping back into coverage, so it’s not like he had a ton of opportunities to pass rush in the four games of his I watched. Yet he still managed to flash quite a bit even in those limited instances.

What Chaisson does well: Drop into coverage

You might be asking yourself, “why would a team drop a guy like Chaisson into coverage when he looks so good putting pressure on the quarterback?” The answer goes back to him being more of a well-rounded weapon than just a regular old edge rusher.

Chaisson looked at least as comfortable dropping back in coverage as he did rushing the passer, if not more so. He wasn’t just dropping to the flat on zone blitzes and trying not to get embarrassed like your average defensive end prospect. I mean, he walked out on the slot at times in press coverage. You might have thought he was a member of the secondary watching his feet on those plays.

He also at least appeared to be in man-to-man quite a bit against running backs and tight ends in the games I watched. When I saw him flip his hips to change directions on a few of those plays, he looked like he was born to back pedal. I was also really impressed with the way he broke up a couple of screen passes. It was a thing of beauty watching him react to the blockers, then take off like his hair was on fire to blow up the play.

As much as teams need pass rushers these days, they also need that guy who can win those one-on-one coverage matchups with tight ends who are too physical for most safeties and corners. We are in a golden age of production from the tight end position even with Rob Gronkowski’s recent retirement.

With the way he moved on the field, I believe Chaisson has the potential to be able to bang and run with the Travis Kelces and George Kittles of the world at the line of scrimmage or off of it. Maybe he can’t stay with them 30 yards down the field, but he can force the quarterback to have to make one hell of a throw over him to complete the pass. And maybe with a little bit of work, he can eventually be the kind of defender that those tight ends can’t shake deep down the field, either.

So the question in my mind really isn’t “where do you play him,” but rather, “how many ways can you maximize his potential within the scheme of your defense?” In that context, it matters more how Chaisson is used, rather than where he lines up.

Where Chaisson can improve: His technique

I will concede that no matter where he plays, Chaisson will likely have to sharpen up his technique a little overall.

As a pass rusher, he could stand to get better with being precise with his hands. Just throwing your swiper move out there will win every so often just off luck. But once he gets to where he can time his opponent’s punch better, Chaisson is going to have even more success getting around the edge.

His long-arm move would also be a lot more deadly if Chaisson learned to escape off it a little sooner. Too often he would end up stuck on the blocker peeking in the backfield, instead of just ripping outside. Those were plays where he could’ve been getting pressures rather than ending up a spectator.

The more he works on perfecting his long-arm move, the harder it is going to be for anybody to block that young man off the edge.

Chaisson’s NFL future: First-round talent

There are so many ways you can use him effectively that the one place I would love to see Chaisson go is to the Patriots. I’m not saying he will end up in New England; there really is no way to tell how this jerry-rigged draft will go. However, Chaisson looks like the perfect guy to replace do-it-all linebacker Kyle Van Noy after Van Noy signed with the Dolphins in free agency this spring.

That is probably more wishful thinking than anything else because I know Bill Belichick could get the most out of Chaisson, but the Patriots certainly aren’t the only team that could sorely use a defender with Chaisson’s skillset.

It’s a little hard for me to compare him to the other edge rushers I’ve broken down so far like Chase Young, A.J. Epenesa, and Terrell Lewis. That’s both because of the size difference, and also the difference in how I feel those guys will fit into schemes on the next level, as opposed to Chaisson’s ideal fit.

Still, I see Chaisson as possessing first-round talent. He definitely gave first-round effort in the games I watched.

I believe Young goes the highest overall of the group, but after that it’s somewhat of a crapshoot because of the different needs they all fulfill. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chaisson go as high as the middle of the first round, either. There are just so many ways you can potentially use him to help affect the outcome of games for me to believe more than 20 teams are going to pass on him this year.

But I have been wrong before, so the fun part is now waiting to see if the teams agree with me or not. Regardless of where he’s drafted, however, I expect Chaisson to be an impact player in all phases of the game on the next level. His best days are likely ahead of him, especially if he goes to the right situation.

Be sure to check out my other scouting reports on Chase Young, Jerry Jeudy, Derrick Brown, Jedrick Wills Jr., A.J. Epenesa, CeeDee Lamb, Javon Kinlaw, Mekhi Becton, Terrell Lewis, Henry Ruggs III, Neville Gallimore, and Tristan Wirfs.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched Chaisson play against Texas, Florida, Auburn, and Alabama.