The New England Patriots’ defensive front seven lost some considerable talent over the course of the offseason, especially when it comes to the edge and off-the-ball positions: both Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins Sr., who played 81.9% and 79.1% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2019, respectively, left New England in free agency. While the likes of Chase Winovich, John Simon and Brandon Copeland could help fill the void of their departures, the Patriots might look to the draft to add some more playmaking ability.
If they do that and decide to target their defensive edge early on, LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson might be one of the most intriguing players available. The junior defender, who will turn only 21 in July, has all the physical tools to succeed at the next level — and looks like a player who would be a perfect fit in New England’s hybrid defense. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at him.
Name: K’Lavon Chaisson
Position: Defensive edge/Outside linebacker
School: LSU (junior)
Opening day age: 21
2019 stats: 13 games; 745 snaps; 60 tackles (13.5 tackles for loss; 7 missed tackles); 1 forced fumble; 34.5 quarterback pressures (6.5 sack, 7 hits, 21 hurries); 2 pass breakups
Size: 6030, 254 lbs, 9.88 hand size, 32.25 arm length
Workout numbers: N/A
Expected round: 1st
Patriots pre-draft meeting: N/A
Strengths: Chaisson’s athletic skillset is electrifying. His burst out of his stance is next level and will be a challenge for NFL-caliber offensive tackles, considering that he is able to gain plenty of ground in an instant. His explosiveness is not limited to playing downhill, however, as he also has the short-area quickness to make plays in the middle of the field or when asked to move in space. Chaisson projects to be a high-impact player when asked to perform stunts or hold his own on the edge against outside runs or quarterback scrambles.
The 20-year-old also the necessary football intelligence to become an impact player on Day One: despite having started just 17 games for LSU, he has quick processing skills and reads his keys very well while taking good angles towards the ball. Add his flexibility and natural athleticism and you get a player who should succeed in most situations, giving teams considerable versatility to work with: Chaisson can make an impact as a pass rusher in various alignments, when asked to play the run, or even when dropping into coverage. His potential is enormous, both when playing in a three- or a two-point stance.
Chaisson also plays the game with a high motor when in pursuit and is a sure tackler: his long arms give him a good radius to work with, and he has shown that he can successfully wrap up ball carriers even when not in an ideal position to make plays. On top of it all, he has been noted as a locker room leader and team captain at LSU: despite playing on a team filled with NFL talent, he was one of the most vocal and charismatic players and as a result was awarded the No. 18 jersey handed to high-character players.
Weaknesses: Chaisson’s list of potential weaknesses is a comparatively short one. His length is not ideal at 6-foot-3, and he is built in a lean way: he may have to add more muscle to his frame to consistently hold his ground at the next level, but there could be concerns about how this might impact his moving abilities. Furthermore, he is still a bit raw when it comes to the technical side of playing on the defensive edge. Chaisson’s pass-rushing counters are still somewhat underdeveloped, and he needs to get more patient with his hands at times.
His injury history — he missed all but the season opener in 2018 after tearing his ACL and also had to sit out two games in 2019 due to an ankle injury — and comparatively modest production despite his sky-high ceiling might also lead to him dropping down teams’ draft boards a bit.
What would be his role? Chaisson started as a stand-up edge/outside linebacker on LSU’s defense last season, essentially filling the hybrid/elephant role that the Patriots featured prominently in the past — from Willie McGinest to Chandler Jones to the aforementioned Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. Accordigly, Chaisson would be projected to play a similar role if drafted by New England: he would be tasked with setting a hard edge in the running game and playing a contain role against mobile quarterbacks, but also play downhill in passing and running situations, and occasionally drop into coverage as well.
How many downs can he play? Given his elite athletic skillset, there would not be a need to pull Chaisson off the field for any defensive down. His comparative lack of bulk and power, however, would not make him an ideal fit for all situations: he may not yet be an ideal fit for short-yardage or goal-line situations. That said, it would not be surprising if he eventually carved out a role in those situations as well given his sky-high ceiling.
What is his special teams value? The Patriots used both Jamie Collins and Chase Winovich extensively in the kicking game last season, and a similar usage might be in the cards for Chaisson as well in case he gets drafted by the Patriots. He would see regular action on field goal and extra point units on both sides of the ball, and also could be used on both punt coverage teams. His upside as a kicking game contributor appears to be a high one, even though his eventual usage will likely be dictated by his defensive playing time. If he indeed rarely leaves the field, New England may opt to limit his special teams snaps.
Does he have positional versatility? While he spent 703 of his 745 defensive snaps last season as an edge linebacker for the Tigers, according to Pro Football Focus’ NFL Draft Guide, Chaisson’s skillset does make him an option to line up all over the formation. He could play the end-of-the-line role held by Kyle Van Noy in 2019, could move inside on obvious passing situations like ex-Patriot Trey Flowers used to, or might drop back to cover the short zones. New England’s coaching staff might opt to keep his usage comparatively simple as he adapts to the NFL game, but the potential for an increased positional portfolio is certainly apparent.
Will his role change from Year One to Year Two? As noted above, Chaisson’s role might become more versatile in 2021 and as once has fully gotten accustomed to playing versus pro-level talent. That said, it would not be a surprise if he already saw considerable action early on in his tenure with the Patriots and therefore only saw a marginal increase when it comes to his responsibilities in Year Two.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Chaisson is expected to come off the board in the first round of this year’s draft, so he would be a lock to make New England’s 55-man roster. That said, his eventual usage and playing time would depend on how quickly he finds his footing in the Patriots’ scheme and how he performs in training camp relative to the other edge defenders on the roster: Chase Winovich, John Simon, Brandon Copeland, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Tashawn Bower and Terez Hall. Of course, the rookie should be expected to carve out a notable role alongside fellow de facto roster locks Winovich and Simon.
Why the Patriots? Chaisson is one of the most impressive athletes in this year’s draft and a player who has as high a ceiling as any defender available. If he found himself in the Patriots’ range on Thursday — i.e. late in the first round — he would be a tremendous addition that just seems tailor-made for the team’s hybrid scheme: he would not just give New England another layer of depth along the defensive edge, but also improve the position’s long-term outlook considering that he has the upside to develop into an impact player and cornerstone for years to come.
Why not the Patriots? Given his developmental upside and Day One starter potential, Chaisson projects to be a popular player in the draft. As such, it would not be surprising if he came off the board too soon for New England’s liking. The team could also look at his comparatively lean frame and modest statistical production to conclude that there would be better fits available at the defensive edge, such as Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos, or Wisconsin’s Zack Baun. Furthermore, the Patriots might opt to move back from their 23rd overall selection to add picks early Day Two — essentially eliminating them from contention for Chaisson’s services.
Verdict: K’Lavon Chaisson is an impressive talent worthy of first-round consideration. In turn, he could come off the board a long time before the Patriots’ range. If he fell out of the top-20, however, it would not be a surprise to see the team move up to try to get him: he is an ideal fit for their defense, after all. While, yes, there is some sort of risk associated with investing in a player based in parts on his ceiling, Chaisson still projects very well in New England’s scheme and should be able to make an impact right away as a replacement for the departed Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.