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Better Know a Freshman: K’Lavon Chaisson

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K’Lavon Chaisson is everything you think he is and more.

LSU Sports

Winning signing day battles are fun. Especially when you beat Texas for a Texas kid who is an impact player at an impact position.

Such is the story with K’Lavon Chaisson, a lanky, gifted athlete that fits the latest evolution in defensive player types: EDGE.

Defenses have spent decades trying to catch up to the evolution of the forward pass in football. Passing schemes have become more imaginative and rules changes have allowed offenses to prosper in ways never before imaginable. Toss in a healthy dose of pace and prolific passers like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are still breaking records into their late 30s, a time when most quarterbacks, historically, decline and retire.

Defenses evolved in various manners to try and compete, adding extra defensive backs, playing more physical at the line of scrimmage, shifting coverage looks and roles on the back end. Yet, the most proven successful path to stopping a dynamic passing game falls back to an age old football adage: It all starts up front.

Never before have pass rushers been more crucial to defensive success than in this era, and not unlike every other position on the field, coaches are beginning to identify and prioritize hyper specialists for specific roles. It is also true that not all roles are created equal, and some roles are easier to fill than others.

Finding an elite pass rusher is one of the top three priorities of most every personnel man in football, college or pro. Elite pass rushers can disrupt the game and cover a multitude of sins in the rest of your defensive unit. Pair a couple of these players together and you win Super Bowls.

The Browns just took a gamble that Myles Garrett can be one of those players. The Chargers believe they have found it in Joey Bosa. And the Falcons did the year before in Vic Beasley. Arden Key certainly fits the mold.

K’Lavon Chaisson may be next in line.

The Back of the Card

110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.

100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.

97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.

89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.

79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.

247 Composite Ranking: ****
247 Composite Rating: .9826

Chaisson ranked 37th in the 247 composite, just seven spots outside of 5-star range. 247 themselves actually ranked Chaisson as the no. 11 prospect nationally, while Director of Scouting, Barton Simmons, had this to say:

"Arden Key and Brian Burns have shown us what can be done as a first-year pass-rush specialist and Chaisson has that kind of impact ability. He's not ready to be an every down player yet but he can get to the quarterback better than anyone in this class and that gets you to Sunday football."

Simmons also identified Chaisson as an instant impact recruit. Note that Chaisson’s composite rating actually totals a 5-star on 247’s scale, so we’re clearly talking about a player that’s right in among the best in the nation for 2017. Chaisson was an Under Armour All-American, where 247’s Luke Stampini named him the No. 2 overall performer for the week. Talk about a guy who shines when the lights turn brightest. He finished the All-American game with 3 sacks and 5 more tackles for loss. He also shined during practices, blowing by some of the nation’s best offensive tackles and even exhibiting some unexpected pass rush moves.

As a recruit, Chaisson was listed at 6’4” and a slim 215. LSU’s roster is now listing him at 6’4”, 240, which aligns pretty well with what he told Jordy Culotta in May, that he was up to 234 pounds. This does not look like a 215 pound man:

LSU Sports & Chris Parent

This is exceptionally encouraging news. If you will remember, Arden Key really battled to put on weight early in his LSU career. The roster lists him at 6’6”, 231, but look at this picture of him:

Times Picayune

Even if the numbers check out, packing 15 more pounds on two extra inches of frame, compared to Chaisson, isn’t much. Chaisson looks physically much more ready to play, which is a welcome surprise for a guy that didn’t enroll early.

On The Field

Already There: Length, Athleticism, Hands, Pass Rush Moves

Working On It: Bulk, Anchoring, Mastering His Craft

Doesn’t Have It: Nothing

Already There

Length: At 6’4”, he’s plenty tall, but what distinguishes him is his wingspan. Scouts raved about his length during UA practices and it readily shows up on tape. Plays like the one he makes at :50 or 1:01 in his HUDL tape partially exhibit where this comes into play. Perhaps more importantly as a pass rusher as it allows him to creation separation between himself and larger blockers, for which he already displays a good sense. Check out 1:21, which is also a great hustle play, btw; the blocker can never engage Chaisson which allows him to break free and make the scoop fumble recovery.

Athleticism: It’s off the charts. :07 into the reel and he makes a disciplined read then an athletic leaping interception... that he returns for a TD. How about the spin move at :23, which illustrates exactly how nimble he is? Or the topper of them all at :33, with a burst so electric he actually meets the QB and RB at the mesh point before making the TFL? Physical limitations won’t be an issue.

Hands: If you remember, hand usage was a major reason for my optimism on Arden Key:

Probably more than anything else, my favorite skill of Key's is how he utilizes his hands to beat blockers. A player with his speed can sometimes be guilty of the bull in a China shop rush technique, which consists of simply plowing straight ahead with no purpose, but in a hurry. Key, on the other hand, knows how and when to use his hands to defeat blockers.

I see very similar tools with how Chaisson approaches the game, and not just in rushing the passer either. He’s clearly well coached and does an excellent job of using his hands, either by attacking the chest plate of the OT to create separation (using his length), or using a strong club to bat away hands looking to engage him, or just outright using them to sort through trash like a pure linebacker.

:42 is a prime example of his understanding of the leverage game coupled with his hand usage to soundly defeat a much bigger blocker, disengage and go make a play.

Pass Rush Moves: The reason his spin move at :23 works is because he does a fantastic job of creating inside leverage with his left hand:

The amazing thing here is Chaisson is actually not in great position. He reads the outside hip of the TE, which reads like a down block. The opposing team is trying to set him up and give the OT some relief. But, Chaisson’s length and athleticism allow him to adjust, and he hop steps to the outside shoulder of the suddenly helpless OT. Once the OT overextends himself, it’s game set match for Chaisson, but notice he also uses that inside arm to ensure the OT can’t get both his arms on him to block. From there, it’s a leverage game and his athleticism shines, allowing him to flip his body 360 degrees and make the tackle for loss. Frankly, it’s reminiscent of Freeney.

Working On It

Bulk: Even at 240, he’s still lean. To be a dominant edge player, Chaisson will need to get up into that 260-270 range, without sacrificing his explosiveness. He has all the indicators of being able to do so, with his long, broad frame ready to pack lean muscle mass onto.

Anchoring: This goes part and parcel with bulk, but there’s no tape of Chaisson having to anchor in the run game. Now, any defense that would ask Chaisson to regularly perform such a task would be wasting his tremendous talents. But it’s still something he’ll need to add to his repertoire, especially as he comes up against more talented blockers in the SEC. Right now, he’s able to win in the run game with hustle, but at some point he’ll need to stand up to a hard-charging OL and stop him in his tracks.

Mastering His Craft: Chaisson already shows a penchant for pass-rush technique. He’s not just a speed rusher who excelled at blowing by unathletic linemen in HS. Like discussed above, he’s got some solid foundations that will simply need building upon. The best rushers in history have the full array at their disposal. He has that potential, but he must put in the time.

Poseur’s 80s Movie Comparison

K’Lavon Chaisson is the much anticipated sequel to an original that is one of the greatest of all time. Barring injury, when Arden Key leaves LSU at the end of this season, he will own the LSU record book on pass rushing. He’s already the greatest pass rusher in two decades in Baton Rouge. That is a near impossible act to follow, and Chaisson has the chance to not only meet his predecessor, but be even better.

Chaisson is the complete package and is already earning raves from the coaching staff as a player who will make an impact right now. Not down the road. Now. It’s not often the sequel is everything you loved about the original, but the potential is there. Chaisson is The Empire Strikes Back.

Amazon.com

No movie could follow Star Wars, the ultimate game changer in how movies were made and marketed. And not to take anything away from the paradigm shifting original, but the sequel might be even better. Arden Key changed the game for LSU linebackers. Chaisson might be an even better player.

What the Future Holds

Chaisson showed up at 240 pounds and in LSU’s first scrimmage preseason game, he registered one sack, three tackles for loss and four hurries. Coach O called him dominant and said he’s exactly the type of player we thought he’d be. He’s getting big time reps right now as Arden Key remains on the mend, and coaches are raving about his strength and smarts.

The bottom line is that Chaisson is the total package. On top of all his athletic giftings, what stands out on tape is his effort level. Chaisson is an unselfish player. He’s not a glory hound who turns up the volume on 3rd and long to pad his stat totals. He’s gonna play the run with ferocity. That’s reflected in this quote he gave Sam Spiegelman:

“I like to say that the sky is the limit,” Chaisson smiled. “I don’t look at myself as a top prospect in the nation. In the locker room, I’m just a normal dude. There are guys that bench more than me, squat more than and are more talented that me. There’s a lot of things I can do, but I wouldn’t think that I’m a top guy out of this program. There’s a lot of guys that are overlooked, and I believe there’s a lot of things I need to work on.”

He’s so reminiscent of Key in that regard. Key’s been routinely lauded for his work ethic, non-stop motor and hunger to improve. I see the same things in Chaisson. To call him a pass rusher is almost an insult to his skills. He’s a ball chaser. Wherever the ball is, he’s gonna go get it.

I feel much the same about Chaisson as I did about Key coming out: he’s a special talent. His early fall practice performances are minting that opinion. Chaisson is going to play and he’s going to play a lot in 2017. Imagine pinning he and Key on opposite sides and turning them both loose? You know Aranda has to be salivating at the thought.

The best part of it all is that Chaisson won’t be put into a position where he’s demanded to be a key contributor from Day One. Arden Key didn’t have that luxury as he was thrust into the rotation due to depth issues. This should help prevent him from hitting the freshman wall that Key eventually met.

High End: All-American, Top 10 NFL Draft Pick
Low End: Multi-year starter and quality edge defender
Realistic: All-SEC player that becomes one of the league’s best pass rushers

Additional Reading:

How LSU Found K’Lavon Chaisson by Ross Dellenger

K’Lavon Chaisson Honors His Late Father Through Football by Damon Sayles

Keeping it in the Family: K’Lavon Chaisson by Samuel Berger