No defense had a better pass rush win rate than the Cowboys in 2019, and they were led by two dynamic edge rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn. Both players finished in the top three in pass rush win rate on the edge. But while Lawrence is still under contract for a while, Quinn is set to enter free agency and could have a high asking price, creating a need at the position opposite Tank.
Enter LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson.
Name: K’Lavon Chaisson
School: Louisiana State
Weight: 250 lbs
2019 stat line: 13 games, 60 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 passes defensed
K’Lavon Chaisson’s versatility would expand the list of things Mike Nolan can do with the multiple, swarming defense he hopes to install. At LSU, Chaisson played a variety of different roles for the national championship defense. While he was always lining up on the edge, he played a healthy amount of snaps both standing up and with his hand in the dirt.
In both alignments, Chaisson displayed some truly incredible burst off the line. It required either very long or very quick offensive tackles to keep up with him, and even then Chaisson was a force to be reckoned with. Most notably, he didn’t really lose any of that when he came out of a two point stance. If Nolan really wants to do as he did in Atlanta and occasionally feature some stand up edge rushers, Chaisson’s ability to do so without losing a step would significantly boost that package’s effectiveness.
Aside from Chaisson’s explosive first step, he’s also got a really good tool bag of rush moves. Due to his insane get off, he tends to attack on the outside more often than not, but he’s showed a good understanding of when to bait tackles before deploying a vicious spin move inside. He has also shown a great feel for the pocket and regularly works back to the line of scrimmage as the quarterback steps up. His athleticism and motor keeps him in every play no matter what.
But Chaisson is more than just a threat in the pass rush game. He’s got something the Cowboys routinely lacked in 2019: gap discipline. When playing the run, Chaisson does a good job of getting leverage while processing the play before making his move. He attacks run blockers like he does pass blockers, and uses that to get through traffic with relative ease. His tackling mechanics are very sound, frequently going for the wrap up tackle instead of dipping his head or tripping the ballcarrier.
But wait, there’s more! In 2019, LSU got extra creative with Chaisson, asking him to drop into coverage more than most teams would ask of their edge rushers, and he responded incredibly well. He showed the ability to jam up smaller slot receivers and sometimes tight ends. While Chaisson obviously won’t play too many coverage snaps at the next level, he’s got the skill set to play a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker role, which is to say he’s a player that can succeed regardless of team fit. Simply put, Chaisson can do everything you could ask of an edge defender.
The two reasons some teams might be wary of him are his size and the fact that Chaisson tore his ACL in 2018. Obviously the ACL didn’t hinder his production in 2019, but some teams get scared off by that. He is fairly small for his position, and isn’t particularly long in his arms. The Cowboys have craved length in their defensive linemen in the past, but perhaps the new approach on defense changes that. It might not be the case for other teams in this draft, though.
Still, Chaisson has skyrocketed up draft boards since declaring and is firmly entrenched as the second best edge in this class behind Chase Young. That means the possibility he’s still around at 17 is growing dimmer each week. Still, Chaisson is a potential prospect for Dallas and if they were to take him it would expand the list of things Nolan can do on defense even more.