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Why K’Lavon Chaisson could be the key to an improved Jaguars defense

A look at what happened for Chaisson in 2020, and why he could be the most important defensive player in 2021.

Chicago Bears v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

To say K’Lavon Chaisson’s rookie year was a rough one would be a massive understatement. The rookie EDGE defender from LSU played in every game this season but only registered one sack and three tackles for loss, and is nearing the haunted “bust” label for many Jaguars fans. However, I think Chaisson could be the key to unlocking the attacking defense Joe Cullen wanted to bring to Duval. The film from last year for Chaisson was up and down, but near the end of the season he began to find his footing and show the potential for what could come in 2021.

It’s been a while, folks, but... sheds single tear... lets open back up the film room!

What Went Wrong

Discomfort in a 3-point stance

Coming out of college Chaisson was a predominantly stand up EDGE defender who would drop into coverage and play on the line, and did both fairly well. However, once drafted into Todd Wash’s 4-3 Under scheme, Chaisson had to make the move to end, where he had his hand in the dirt most of the time. This transition isn’t as simple as many would believe. Playing in a standup, two point stance allowed Chaisson to use his lateral quickness and length to his advantage, without his frame being a detriment. Take this pass rush snap against Oklahoma as an example. One of Chaisson’s favorite moves is the long arm, where he can convert speed to power.

Look at this still shot from this same rep. Chaisson’s inside hand is right on the tackle’s inner shoulder pad, and he has the perfect angle to get push, while keeping his outside hand free to swipe back inside and get the sack.

For a guy who was only listed at 254 pounds, being able to have that runway in a two point stance allows for speed to power conversion easier, and if his hand placement is as it was here, then he’ll produce.

The NFL is an entirely different beast than college, however. By placing his hand in the dirt, Wash sapped some of that runway speed and Chaisson’s long arm move wasn’t as effective. This pass rush rep is from David Bakhtiari and Green Bay, and although Bakhtiari is a premier NFL pass blocker, the difference in this rep and the one above is evident.

Comparing the still from this game to the LSU vs Oklahoma game, the first thing that sticks out is by the time Chaisson goes to make contact, he’s given up his chest to Bakhtiari, giving the tackle an easy spot to punch.

Pass rushers are always taught to attack half a man, meaning the rush towards the outside shoulder. Chaisson tried to rush the entire man to get his bull rush going, which was an easy stuff for Bakhtiari. Craig Roh mentions one of the pros of a two point stance is having vision, and the ability to see what the tackle is doing. For Chaisson, moving his hand to the dirt eliminates that vision, and his runway to convert speed to power. This then puts him at a disadvantage due to his slimmer frame against much larger tackles.

Lack of Creativity

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Todd Wash is a terrible defensive coordinator. His defensive scheme lacked creativity and failed to maximize the talent (albeit the 2020 Jaguars didn’t have much on defense) that he had. One of the players hurt the most by this was Chaisson. Coming out of Dave Aranda’s scheme at LSU, Chaisson was asked to rush the passer, drop into coverage, play man, and stop the run. He would be walked out over the slot receiver, or playing a nine-technique and rushing the passer.

Once reaching the NFL, however, that creativity was lost in the form of milquetoast Todd Wash. Wash rarely used any blitzes and almost never deployed Chaisson as the versatile chess piece he can be. Wash also rarely used any manufactured pressures or stunts, which Chaisson did well with in LSU and the few times Wash actually did it.

This pressure Wash used in Week 2 against the Titans is a prime example of how Chaisson can be used when not moving around pre-snap. He’s lined up on the outside shoulder of the tackle, but when the ball is snapped, Jacksonville sends a blitz to the right side of the offensive line and at the left tackle, leaving Chaisson one-on-one with a slower guard, resulting in a sack. These types of blitzes and plays were sparingly used, because Wash would not send pressure (they were 16th in the NFL in blitz rate) and the talent on the back end wasn’t able to hold up when a blitz was sent. For a player like Chaisson who’s moves need fine-tuning (SB Nation’s Stephen White outlined it here) manufactured pressures are an easy way to get him into solo reps against outmatched linemen.

What Went Right

Late Season play vs. run

This is an area where I was pleasantly surprised by Chaisson’s play. Against the run in the back half of the season, Chaisson performed extremely well. The numbers may not show explosive play, but Chaisson often found himself breaking down plays so he or his teammates could make plays. An old adage for rookies in any sport is “the game slowing down,” and for Chaisson, plays like this one against Indianapolis showed the game slowing down and using his lateral quickness to his advantage.

This is also seen on the backside of run plays as well. In this example vs. Minnesota, Chaisson feels the cut block from the tight end on a split zone run, and uses his agility to avoid it and make the stop.

Chaisson put multiple plays together like this against the run, something that held over from college, where he set the edge extremely well for someone his size.

Improved Pass Rush Technique

The game slowing down also applied to Chaisson in the passing game, where he began to develop more moves outside of the swipe and long arm move he used at LSU. In the latter half of the season, Chaisson began to use an outside/inside spin move, which is a great counter to have when a pass rusher is as explosive as Chaisson.

Chaisson just misses on a potential sack here, but the move puts the left tackle in a blender. Standing up, this move for Chaisson could potentially become lethal.

A noted improvement later on in the season is attacking half a man, as I mentioned earlier. He works half a man perfectly in this rep against the Colts, and gets a pressure here using a club-rip move, and probably would’ve gotten the sack if he didn’t take a false step to begin the rep:

Chaisson put together a fairly solid back half of 2020, and flashed the potential to be a gamewrecker in a new scheme. Now, what will that scheme ask him to do, and why will his role possibly be the most important on the defense?

2021 Outlook

Both Joe Cullen and Tosh Lupoi have spoken highly of Chaisson, and see a role for him emphasizing his versatility. “He’s recognized where he needs to improve and attacking those tasks,” Lupoi said of Chaisson in his media availability in June. “How we’re rushing the passer, manipulating that in some ways. He applies that information in every drill we do together and then again to team drills. Setting edges, what we’re going to ask of him, some coverage opportunities for him, he’s had a strong showing in that.”

Using what Lupoi said of Chaisson and how Cullen described the defensive line play (via John Shipley of SI Jaguars) we can expect the pressure to come from everywhere on the defense, a lot like how the Ravens played their defense. I outlined what the Jaguars defense could look like here, but Chaisson could be the most important piece because of his versatility. Josh Allen will be used in the same way, but as high school defensive coordinator and host of the Make Defense Great Again podcast Chris Vasseur put it, “Every once in a while you might drop a great pass rusher [into coverage]. But if you’re dropping Von Miller a lot, you’re an asshole.”

That’s where Chaisson comes into play. As I said previously, when Dave Aranda was at LSU(he’s the current Baylor HC), he used Chaisson as a player who was on the edge rushing, or dropping into coverage, or man on a tight end or running back. Chaisson has experience doing these things, which will allow Josh Allen to do what he does best which is rush the passer. Having someone who could drop into coverage like Chaisson also allows for the manufactured and simulated pressures to pick up, and the blitz and pressure rate will skyrocket. Finally, Chaisson will be better rushing the passer from a two point stance, which will reduce the attention given to Allen, and give both players one on one matchups.

Chaisson will be in a defensive scheme that is suited to his strengths, which will allow “Swipa” to swipe again.