The Jaguars selected then 20-year-old edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson out of LSU with the 20th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (enough 20's for you?).
Chaisson helped lead the Tigers to a National Championship in his redshirt sophomore year and showed flashes of brilliance rushing from a two-point stance. Coming off an ACL surgery, he started slowly in his second and final season at LSU but turned it on down the stretch, tallying 20 quarterback pressures and 4.5 sacks over the final four games of the season. His growth as an edge rusher was encouraging. His raw talent and potential made him an enticing draft prospect in a relatively weak edge rusher class. If he came out in 2021 with the same type of production, natural ability, and skill set he displayed in 2019, Chaisson would likely fall to the second or third round.
Despite having just one year of mild production, Chaisson had a strong pre-draft process and was a consensus round-one selection leading up to the draft. His athleticism pops off the tape from his time at LSU. But Chaisson didn't ever show a diverse array of pass rush moves. Most of his wins rushing the passer came off speed to power or stunts to the inside. Despite his modest size for the position — 6'3'' and 254-pounds — Chaisson was effective against the run for the Bayou Bengals. Having rarely played with his hand in the dirt, Chaisson was rightfully pegged as a project stand up rusher, not a true 4-3 defensive end.
So when the Jaguars, who primarily run a 4-3 scheme with ends that rush from a three-point stance, selected him at twenty overall, it was abundantly clear that he'd need time to develop. Not only because he was raw as a pass rusher in general, but also because he'd be asked to do something he'd seldom done before: rush the passer with his hand in the turf.
Despite offseason talk of switching to more 3-4 principles, which undoubtedly would've favored Chaisson, Jags' defensive coordinator Todd Wash, stubborn as ever, insisted the team would still run a base 4-3 defense, and that's precisely what they've done.
Instead of allowing Chaisson to rush the passer from a two-point stance, the Jaguars, as they have done so many times in the past, attempted to fit a square peg in a round hole. They asked him to re-learn how to play the edge. This summer, practice after practice, Chaisson would receive individual instruction, learning the nuances of how to rush the passer as 4-3 end. Unsurprisingly, he's been an unmitigated disaster for much of his rookie year. He's looked uncomfortable and has been unable to make routine plays, even in run defense. Chaisson has lacked a pass rush plan and a defined set of go-to moves. It's hard to blame the rookie for his struggles in 2021. Not only was he learning a new way of playing the game, but with Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell no longer around and Josh Allen missing a chunk of the season with injuries, he had to learn on the fly. Inconsistent reps make it difficult for such a young player to find a rhythm: he's played 31 snaps or less six of 12 games this season.
But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Chaisson turned in his best performance of the season in Week 13 when the Jaguars took on the Vikings. He was on the field for 48 defensive snaps (17 run defense, 21 pass rush). Chaisson failed to register a sack, despite bumping into Kirk Cousins (on the second drive of the game — it appeared Chaisson thought Cousins had already thrown the ball), but he did lead the team in pressures with five — three more than in any other game this season — and hit Cousins twice. Chaisson appeared to come out of his shell, actually showing pass rush moves and the ability to win a down somewhat regularly. And the Jaguars allowed him to rush from a two-point stance on several occasions. Chaisson utilized his exceptional ability to convert speed to power. He also used his hands to disengage and defeat left tackle Riley Reiff more than once.
Jaguars' head coach Doug Marrone praised Chaisson's performance against the Vikings.
"We had long discussions this week," Marrone told the media in a conference call on Monday. "I had discussions with him. I'm like, 'Hey listen, don't stop your feet before contact.' He has been doing a good job in the run game, but he affected the quarterback yesterday. So, that was the first time I felt like he felt good about what he was doing, he was going, and now we have to build on it. It's one of those things where some players can take a gradual increase and just get a little bit better as you keep going and keep playing, and some players, all of sudden, boom, the light comes on and goes. I'm hoping with K'Lavon, I think he's going to see everything we've been saying, he's going to see it on film tomorrow, he's going to watch it, and go, 'Hey listen, I have a chance now to really make some things happen.' So, from that standpoint, that was an exciting part for him. I was excited for him."
It appeared Chaisson took his coach's advice during the week to heart. He continued to drive his legs through contact when going head to head with blockers, and it yielded the first positive performance on his young career.
Will this display go down as just a blip on the radar in a lost rookie season? Or will it be the start of an upward trajectory for K'Lavon Chaisson?
If the Jaguars continue to allow him to rush from a two-point stance, at times, and his confidence grows after an impressive showing, the answer might be the latter. Chaisson is supremely gifted physically and has been better in practice than he has in the games so far. There's reason to believe.
The next four games will help define the theme of K'Lavon Chaisson's rookie season. If Chaisson's final four games of his rookie season in Jacksonville are anything like his last four contests at the college level, Jaguars fans will be in for a treat.
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