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Can Kevin Pierre-Louis finally put it all together in DC?

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

One of the Redskins’ earliest free agent signings this year was linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis. At the time, Scott Jennings provided a nice write-up covering the basics about the the Bears’ LB grabbed during the second day of the legal tampering period. However, given defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s recent remarks about KPL, I thought it would be interesting to do a bit deeper dive on the 6-year vet.

Earlier this week, at his presser, Del Rio called out KPL specifically when discussing the Redskins’ linebacking corps:

His Background

KPL’s personal story is a tragic and fascinating one. At four years old, his mother was imprisoned for shooting his father in the back (his father survived). He later ended up moving out of his father’s house and in with his high school coach, because his father moved out of the town where KPL’s elite private school was located. He has also been public about his own struggles with mental health issues. In 2016, he detailed his battle with depression in a Seattle Times piece:

Eventually, during the winter break of his junior season, he was diagnosed with depression. He started taking anti-depressant medication and seeing a therapist.

“Mine isn’t triggered,” he said. “It’s purely chemical. Sometimes I just can’t help the way I feel.”

There are still days when he doesn’t feel like talking, when it’s hard to hold a meaningful conversation, when that familiar fog reappears. On those days, he doesn’t tell his teammates or coaches how he’s feeling, but he does try to tell the people closest to him so they can understand.

Selected by the Seahawks in the 4th round of the 2014 draft, KPL was a 4-year starter at Boston College and performed like an athletic freak at the Combine, comping most closely to Ryan Shazier. His relatively diminutive size (6’, 232 lbs), however, caused his draft stock to slip a bit.

One pre-draft evaluation described KPL this way:

For Pierre-Louis, the value comes from what he can do in space. He played all over the field for Boston College, but made the biggest impact out over the slot receivers or when free to roam over the top unimpeded. His acceleration and closing speed enable him to make plays that many other linebackers cannot. He’s disciplined on top of that.

It’s the hesitation and indecision that must be cut out of his game, but his versatility and value in pass defense will make him a starting linebacker in the NFL.

In Seattle, KPL was stuck behind two of the best linebackers in the league - All Pro Bobby Wagner and Pro Bowler KJ Wright - on the depth chart, limiting him to only one start in three years with the team. In 2017, he was traded to the Chiefs for Pro Bowler DJ Alexander, a special teams ace for Kansas City. At the time, there was some head scratching on the part of Chiefs’ fans as to why the trade occurred, but it turned out that Andy Reid liked KPL’s special teams skills when he came out of the draft.

In the lead up to the 2017 season, he was lauded by the Chiefs’ DC, Bob Sutton:

“I think he’s done a great job, I’ve said this before, he’s got really good quickness,” Sutton said this week of Pierre-Louis. “He’s an attacking, physical type of player. He’s got some good athletic ability, he adds some speed to our defense. He’s one of the guys that I think of that has come in out of nowhere and kind of had to merge into this whole thing on the run and I think he’s done a really good job. We’re using him in a lot of different places and so far have been really happy with his performance on the defensive side.”

That year, KPL played over half the snaps on special teams and 23% of the snaps on defense, though he didn’t start in any of the 14 games that he played. He ended up with 41 tackles and 1 TFL and wasn’t re-signed by the Chiefs.

In 2018, KPL signed a two-year deal with the Jets after having been arrested for marijuana possession earlier in the year. He received a 1-week game suspension for the infraction and only played in 9 games with the Jets that year, with the overwhelming number of snaps coming on special teams. After going on IR at the end of the 2018 season for a shoulder injury, the Jets declined his option, and he was picked up by the Bears and signed to a 1-year contract for 2019.

He ended up having his best year as a pro in Chicago, contributing on 20% of the defensive snaps and 66% of the special teams plays for the Bears. It should also be noted that, in the last 4 games of the season, he played an average of 77% of defensive snaps per game, and collected 28 tackles.

Where Does He Fit with the Redskins?

KPL’s physical ability is on a par with some of the best linebackers in the league (similar to Cole Holcomb’s), and his talent has caught the eye of some of the best coaches in the league (Pete Carroll, Andy Reid), but he’s yet to really put it all together in the NFL.

In some respects, the pre-draft comments about KPL remind me of descriptions of 2019 5th rounder, Khaleke Hudson - fast, athletic, undersized, but well-suited to help on special teams - which is an interesting coincidence since both played the “viper” position under DC Don Brown in college (KPL at Boston College, Hudson at Michigan). The “viper” is a hybrid position in Brown’s defense that includes the responsibilities associated with safety, linebacker, and pass rusher - depending on the circumstances - and which was probably best embodied by Jabrill Peppers.

KPL is the ideal type of player for an incentive-laden, one-year “prove it” deal: A physically-gifted gamer who, either through lack of opportunity or poor fit hasn’t played up to his ceiling. My guess would be that KPL is in the mix for playing time at SAM linebacker, or potentially as a nickel LB, with an opportunity to get significant playing time on special teams this year. He also represents a recent trend of getting much faster at the linebacker position for the Redskins, which, if you look around the league, is a hallmark of many of the best defenses, and something that has been a glaring weakness in DC for years.

As a final note, with the broader acceptance and understanding of mental health issues affecting society, and NFL players in particular, and the fact that both FPL and Cody Latimer have been public with their own struggles, it could be time for the Redskins to be at the leading edge of the issue by considering the addition of someone with mental health training in Doug Williams’ player development group.


Will KPL be an important part of the Redskins’ defense in 2020?

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