North Carolina linebacker and 2021 NFL Draft prospect Chazz Surratt started his college career as a quarterback. Now, he’s one of the most prestigious defenders in the ACC, and he’s a legitimate NFL talent who could end up starting at the next level. What made Surratt’s transition so successful, and does he have what it takes to start on the biggest stage?
Chazz Surratt NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 228 pounds
School: North Carolina
Current Year: Redshirt Senior
Chazz Surratt was a four-star athlete in the class of 2016. He played multiple positions, but his most marketed position was quarterback. There, he boasted potential as a dual-threat passer, and he had legitimate interest from a number of schools, including Clemson, Boston College, and West Virginia.
Surratt ultimately wanted opportunity, however, and he also wanted to stay close to home. The North Carolina Tar Heels provided him with the proximity to home, as well as a direct line of opportunity at quarterback. Surratt committed to North Carolina, where he’d soon see his career take a different turn.
From North Carolina quarterback to North Carolina linebacker
Surratt didn’t see the field in 2016, redshirting his true freshman season as Mitchell Trubisky closed out his career. As a redshirt freshman, Surratt saw early action as a quarterback. He wound up leading the team in several metrics. He was the team’s leading passer with 1,342 yards, and he also put up thirteen total touchdowns.
Surratt ultimately didn’t do enough to earn the starting job in 2018. Thus he took on a backup role, only appearing in one game on the season. In 2019, the Tar Heels brought on former championship-winning coach Mack Brown, and freshman Sam Howell took hold of the quarterback job. Amidst this chain of events, Surratt moved to linebacker. It was a move initiated by his own desire to make an impact. It turned out to be a career-defining transition.
Chazz Surratt’s transition to linebacker
Surratt immediately showed promise in his new role. In 2019, Surratt led the team with 115 total tackles, and also added 15.0 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble, an interception, and three pass deflections. He was named a first-team All-ACC honoree in his first season at linebacker. In 2020, he picked up where he left off.
As a redshirt senior, Surratt showed continuous growth on the defensive side of the ball. He logged 91 tackles, six sacks, a forced fumble, an interception, and three pass deflections. He nearly matched his 2019 totals in two fewer games, earning All-American recognition for his play. It was after this season that Surratt opted out of his bowl game, and officially declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Chazz Surratt’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
There are two things that stand out immediately when watching North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt. He’s an elite athlete, and he plays fast.
Those two factors, in tandem with one another, are incredibly important for defensive prospects. Plenty of elite athletes don’t play with the necessary urgency to maximize their traits. Moreover, plenty of high-motor guys lack the athletic traits to be premier NFL defenders. Surratt marries athletic freedom with urgency, and the resulting mixture insulates his NFL potential.
Athletically, Surratt checks most, if not all, of the boxes. He’s twitchy, he’s fluid in his hips, and he has sideline-to-sideline range. He’s also very explosive. While other linebackers need a runway to gear up, Surratt can reach his top speed with the press of a button. These exciting traits show up in all phases of his game.
As a pass defender, Surratt can break on balls and close gaps with ease. He can also shadow tight ends easily in man coverage, and his range allows him to limit RAC yards. As a run defender, he has the downhill burst to seal off lanes and the range to shut down outside runs. And as a pass rusher, Surratt has the speed to enter the pocket with impressive quickness, and he also has the fluidity to swim past blockers and minimize contact on his way to the passer, as evidenced by his 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Looking beyond Surratt’s athleticism
Surratt’s athleticism is the foundation of his game, but it’s not all he brings to the table. Surratt is also a fairly instinctive player, a trait he can partly attribute to his past as a quarterback. More than once, Surratt showed the ability to diagnose screens, and used his speed to arrive pre-emptively and snuff out the play. Surratt also has the aggressiveness toward the ball to be disruptive once he’s in position.
Surratt’s upside is more than enough to instill confidence in his draft projection, but he’s still in development. Surratt can take faulty angles on occasion, and while he does have good recovery athleticism, his angles can negatively impact his leverage. There’s reason to believe he’ll keep improving, as he’s still relatively new to the position. But tackling inconsistencies can be exacerbated by the leap to the NFL.
Additionally, Surratt has room to add to his frame, and his middling play strength shows up frequently, most often in run defense. There are times when Surratt can work to the right gap, only to get bested at the contact point. He also has trouble disengaging blocks, and linemen, in particular, can escort Surratt away from the play when they get him under control. Ideally, Surratt will continue to build his frame at the NFL level. Otherwise, he might be a bit limited as a run defender.
Chazz Surratt’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Chazz Surratt’s limitations are notable. He still makes plays in run defense, but he might be better suited for a role as a pass-down specialist who can rush and cover, at least in his early years. And considering he’ll be 24 in his rookie season, one has to wonder if his peak years won’t be as numerous.
Despite this, Surratt’s athleticism and instincts give him a solid floor as a prospect, as well as enticing upside, and if he can add to his frame without sapping away that athleticism, he has every-down potential by year two or three.
Round 1 isn’t likely for Surratt. With Micah Parsons, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Zaven Collins, Dylan Moses, and Nick Bolton all lining up at linebacker, Surratt might be in the next tier down. But his developmental potential makes him an excellent value pick anywhere on Day 2. Teams that might be interested in Surratt’s services include the Browns, Eagles, and Rams, although others could enter that conversation as well.
Any team that picks Surratt might want a veteran alongside him to help him continue growing. He might not be completely ready to take on a full-time starting role. However, with another year or two to gain more consistency with his tackling and add more to his frame, Surratt could become a standout NFL defender. He has the athleticism and the urgency, two of the most important traits.