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NFL Draft Profile: Chazz Surratt

UNC’s star linebacker is a project, but one with tremendous upside

Virginia Tech v North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

After his disastrous appearance at Miami in 2018, would anyone be surprised if Chazz Surratt had transferred from Carolina to play quarterback at a non-Power 5 conference? It was clear for anyone to see that the former Parade All-American and North Carolina Gatorade and Associated Press Player of the Year just didn’t have the skill level necessary to succeed in the ACC. Stories like his are read all over the country and those players, more often than not, leave and are forgotten.

Instead, the story of Chazz Surratt will be told for generations to follow. The skill and will that he showed to contribute to a program he loved and cared for will never be forgotten. And some lucky NFL franchise will soon have the chance to draft a player that is just scratching the surface of his enormous potential. Let’s take a look a closer look at Chazz Surratt’s strengths and weaknesses.

Overview

Chazz Surratt is a 6’3”, 225-lb inside linebacker from Denver, NC. After redshirting his freshman year, Surratt played nine games at quarterback, platooning with Nathan Elliott, an average quarterback that did not leave his mark in UNC record books. After playing in only one game (the aforementioned Miami beatdown) and injuring his throwing wrist (requiring offseason surgery), Surratt made the choice to switch positions; a common enough occurrence for college quarterbacks switching to running back or receiver, not to linebacker though.

Surratt’s decision was a boon to himself and the the team. He led the 2019 Tar Heel defense in a slew of statistical categories, including tackles (115), solo tackles (66), tackles for loss (15), and sacks (6.5). With the departure of key defensive linemen Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge, and an offseason for offensive coordinators to scheme against the UNC linebacker, Surratt did see a dip in production, but still managed to lead the Tar Heels in total tackles (91).

With quarterback Sam Howell and his dynamic offense elevating the team, Surratt merely had to make sure the defense didn’t allow opponents to match the Tar Heels’ scoring for the team to be successful. They performed admirably, finishing the regular season 8-3 after finishing the previous season 6-6.

After bulking up to 230 for his first season at linebacker, Surratt trimmed down to 225, in anticipation of never leaving the field while the defense played. Here is how he measured up at the NFL Draft Combine (data via MockDraftable):

Chazz Surratt
MockDraftable

Strengths

Chazz didn’t lead the team in tackles for the past two seasons by accident. Dude’s a physical presence. He’s fast and strong and has good size. He’s quick to the quarterback, and when he has to make a straight line to a ball carrier, he closes down space quickly, and has gotten better and better at wrapping up and putting players on the ground.

He’s also a playmaker, evidenced by his sack totals (6.5 in 2019, 6 in 2020) and interceptions against Duke and NC State in consecutive seasons. The Duke interception in 2019 saved the game, with Duke in prime scoring position after marching down the field. Surratt, with his heels in front of the goal line, blocked the run option, and his quick thinking took away the pass.

Surratt showed great athleticism and craftiness in his final game in a Tar Heel jersey, effectively spying on Miami quarterback D’Eriq King, frustrating the Hurricane signal caller as Carolina beat the absolute brakes off the Canes. Chazz Surratt is an intriguing prospect for teams in divisions with mobile quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson.

Weaknesses

Chazz Surratt will enter the NFL, the highest level of football competition in the galaxy, with only two years experience playing linebacker. One of those years was played during the pandemic, so his instruction and practice was suboptimal. There will certainly be a learning curve, and as he gets acclimated to a new system, he may look lost during the early portion of the season. This should be expected no matter where he gets drafted.

He has improved the angles that he attacks ball carriers with in space, but there is plenty of highlight film showing him whiffing on tackles after biting on subtle moves. With time and repetition, that will go away, but when he is introduced to the fastest players on the planet, expect some of those junior year plays to creep back.

With the absence of stalwart tackles Strowbridge and Crawford keeping him clean, Surratt did show that he can get swallowed up by bigger, athletic offensive linemen when they get to the second level. He’ll need to get better at shedding those blocks or avoiding them altogether, unless he’s fortunate enough to play behind an elite defensive line that will allow him to simply run downhill unimpeded to the quarterback or ball carrier.

Outlook

Surratt has been mocked as high as the second round in the NFL Draft. He will likely be picked no later than the third round. Any team that wants to provide him an expedited path to success should probably have an aging, star-middle linebacker that he can learn from, and then pass the torch off in his second or third year. Depending on the defensive front his team runs, Surratt may need to put on some additional weight in order to deal with offensive linemen blocking him at the second level.

Patient fans and coaching staffs should be prepared for growing pains, but Chazz Surratt has all the tools, physical and mental, to be a tremendous success and asset at the NFL level for many years to come.