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INDIANAPOLIS — A consistent pass rush can spell doom for opposing offenses, and it can be the difference between being a quality defense and one that wins championships.
They often say that in the NFL, your best shot to get an outstanding pass rusher is to draft them and develop them yourself, because teams rarely let them walk out the door.
The Indianapolis Colts find themselves in a unique situation this spring considering their typical status, sitting high in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft order at pick No. 13 overall. Typically, that gives you a pretty good shot at finding a high-level pass rusher.
One player that may be available to them in the middle of the first round is a player that is prime to shoot up draft boards in the next couple of months: LSU edge defender K'Lavon Chaisson.
The newly-crowned National Champion Tiger started 17-of-26 games in his three seasons in Baton Rouge, totaling 92 tackles (19.0 for loss), 9.5 sacks, one forced fumble and four pass breakups. A season-ending ACL injury suffered in the first game of 2018 cost him his true sophomore season, in which he redshirted.
Chaisson (pronounced Kay-Luh-Vahn Chase-On) arrived at LSU as a five-star recruit after playing just two years of high school football. He made a quick impact for the Tigers, earning Freshman All-SEC honors in 2017. He would later be named First-Team All-SEC in his final season at LSU in 2019.
As raw as he is, Chaisson is very much an ascending prospect. He has a lot of catching up to do, having quit football as a high school freshman to focus on basketball before coming back to the gridiron two years later. He then missed his second season at LSU due to the aforementioned knee injury.
The 6-3, 250-pounder is very athletic and leaves no doubt that there is a lot to work with to help him become a top-end edge rusher.
Chaisson consistently gets a good initial first step off of the line. He is very fast around the edge, mixing these traits to put him ahead against the tackle who is tasked with blocking him.
He has a handful of pass-rushing moves in his repertoire; notably a long-arm, a spin, a dip-and-bend, and a two-hand slap. However, arguably the best tool in Chaisson's belt is his balance and ability to dip and bend around the edge, forcing the tackle to play "below their belly," which they hate to do.
Chaisson shows very good short-area quickness and can shift around block attempts. While many defenders approach the ball with a little too much gusto, he doesn't often overshoot in pursuit. He has body control and can stop himself in order to get to someone who is attempting to run by him. He also stays patient and puts himself in good position in option and play-action situations.
While Chaisson is an edge defender, he's got the instincts of an off-ball linebacker. He even has experience dropping into coverage, and he can sniff out screen passes before they're executed.
Aside from being on the Tigers' 2019-20 National Championship squad, Chaisson also appears to have the "clutch gene." As a junior in high school, he was named the defensive MVP of the state championship game after delivering a game-saving forced fumble on 4th-and-Goal. Then, while at LSU and facing Florida in 2019, Chaisson clinched another game when he tackled Gators quarterback Kyle Trask for a loss on 4th-and-Goal with less than a minute left in the game.
With how raw Chaisson is, he obviously has his areas for improvement.
While he's a really nice pass-rusher, he is not as consistent in run support. He can get overpowered and stuck on blocks if he approaches the offensive tackle flush without putting any moves on them. By developing more counter moves, he could help get himself freed from blocks in the future.
While he takes good angles, occasionally he fails to set the edge in time and the ball carrier will get past him. This might just be a focus thing, ensuring he doesn't get too fixated on the blocker.
Another area in which he could approve is having more of an attack mentality. There are occasions in which he puts himself in close position to make a play, but then simply doesn't do anything about it.
Last is Chaisson's injury history. While there is no reason to think he shouldn't be a normal, healthy player moving forward, he does have some dings on his record. There's the ACL injury in 2018, he missed two games in 2019 with an ankle injury, also missing some practice time with an undisclosed injury earlier that summer, and he also broke a collarbone while in high school.
FIT WITH THE COLTS
Pass rushers fit with any team, but the Colts especially will always try to address it.
Chaisson is similar to edge defenders that the Colts have drafted recently, like Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu. All three are in that general 6-3, 250-pound range (Turay is 6-5), have plus athleticism and can bend the edge. The Colts may also find themselves thin at defensive end over the next two offseasons if they don't address the position, as Jabaal Sheard is due to hit free agency this March, and Justin Houston and Al-Quadin Muhammad are pending free agents next offseason.
While Chaisson was mostly an outside linebacker in a two-point stance at LSU, could he transition to being a defensive end in a three-point stance in the Colts' 4-3 defense? There's no reason to think otherwise. As mentioned, Chaisson is an ascending prospect with a huge ceiling to potentially hit.
First and foremost is the good head that he's got on his shoulders and his desire to be an elite player and teammate.
Chaisson made SEC Academic Honor Roll all three years he was there. And aside from his permanent team captain status in 2019, Chaisson also donned LSU's prestigious No. 18 jersey, which is awarded to a key veteran leader.
"It's really good to have K'Lavon back," former LSU quarterback and presumed No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2020 draft Joe Burrow said before the 2019 season. "He's one of the hardest workers, one of the most talented guys on the team. He's going to have a big year."
On the field, Chaisson could begin his career as a situational pass rusher, primarily seeing action on third downs and other likely passing situations. By Year 2 if he hasn't already claimed it, he could be a full-time starter and have ironed-out some of his areas for improvement.
The Colts could use help to bolster their pass rush after finishing tied for 15th in 2019 with 41 sacks. They haven't finished in the top 10 in the league since 2014 when they were tied for ninth, again with 41 sacks.
Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this month have proven that having a consistent pass rush is a big component to winning a Super Bowl, and adding a player like Chaisson could help do just that for the Colts.