The 2020 NFL Draft is over, and teams have shifted their focus towards mini-camps. Rookies will have their introductions to the team, workouts will start, and before you know it, football will be back. But the NFL Draft work is never truly over. As soon as one draft ends, work on the next begins. With that in mind, let’s meet an intriguing mid-round prospect: North Carolina Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt.
Linebacker may not be the most sought after position in the NFL Draft, but Surratt is one of those players who embody the phrase “quarterback of the defense”. This is a rather apt description, as Surratt began his football journey as a quarterback before making his transition to the defense.
Now, entering his senior season for the Tar Heels, Surratt has a chance to join his brother, Wake Forest wide receiver Sage Surratt, as a second-day selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Though he’ll only have two years of experience at linebacker by the 2021 NFL Draft, Surratt has already positioned himself as one of the best seniors at the position.
Just how high could Surratt be taken? What makes him such an intriguing prospect, and what does he still need to work on? Let’s meet the Tar Heels linebacker.
Where does Surratt excel?
Though Tar Heels linebacker Chazz Surratt has only been a linebacker for one year, his aptitude for the position is already very apparent. His time served as a quarterback provides him with some unique skills at the position that make him stand out among the crowd in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Namely his athletic ability and football IQ.
Where that skill set shows up most is when Surratt plays in coverage. Having spent time as a quarterback, Surratt has great footwork for the position. He’s smooth with his feet and has more than enough speed to be able to hang with tight ends up the seam and fly out to the flat and provide coverage on a running back. Surratt is already adept in zone coverage, and he’s only going to get better with another year at the position under his belt.
Beyond the technical aspects of coverage, Surratt’s time spent as a quarterback also helps him in coverage given his high football IQ. Surratt is quick to recognize patterns developing in front of him, key in, and get to his position. He’s seen these plays from the other side of the ball, and you can tell he recognizes what he sees and knows how to react accordingly. That skill is a significant plus to Surratt’s draft stock.
The other massive plus in Surratt’s draft stock is his sheer upside. Surratt is already a solid linebacker prospect, and he’s only been playing the position for a year at the collegiate level. The growth he showed from the beginning of the season to the Tar Heels’ bowl game has to excite scouts about his potential at the next level. Surratt is only going to continue to get better with the more reps he sees at linebacker. That’s a scary proposition for ACC offenses and an exciting one for NFL defensive coordinators.
Where does Surratt still need work?
Though Surratt has already shown a ton of aptitude for the linebacker position in a short amount of time, the Tar Heels linebacker still has some more developing to do. There are a few sizable holes in Surratt’s game he’ll have to close if he wants to be a high-level linebacker in the NFL. The largest among them is the need to continue progressing as a tackler. Being able to cover and play zone coverage is great, but the primary responsibility of a linebacker is to tackle.
Surratt started his Tar Heels career as a quarterback, so it’s understandable his tackling as a linebacker may be a little suspect. Surratt isn’t always quick to break down and initiate his tackling, and he doesn’t always drive through the ball carrier to finish the tackle. Surratt isn’t shy or timid at the position, but he’ll have to work on the more technical aspects of tackling in his second season at the position.
Some of Surratt’s deficiencies in tackling come from taking poor angles to the ball carrier. Surratt will sometimes find himself out of position due to taking a sub-optimal path to the ball. Seeing this took me a little by surprise, given Surratt’s experience on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s understandable with his lack of experience at linebacker. Another year in the system and at the position should significantly reduce this. Year two as a linebacker should see Surratt become much more consistent overall.
That’s the biggest area Surratt needs to improve in – his overall consistency as a linebacker. A lot of the inconsistencies in his game can be chalked up to inexperience. If they don’t get sorted out this season, they’re officially a problem and one that will significantly impact both his draft position and ceiling at the next level.
What is linebacker Chazz Surratt’s draft outlook?
At the end of the day, there’s a lot to like about Chazz Surratt as a linebacker prospect at the next level. He’s already shown a great aptitude for the position, he has great size for an NFL linebacker, and his experience as a quarterback and athlete gives him a leg up on some of the other linebacker prospects in coverage.
His inexperience at the position has exposed some of the bigger flaws in his game, but he has another year to get those flaws sorted out. There’s a wide range of possible outcomes for the Tar Heels linebacker. Right now, Surratt comes in as the fifth-ranked linebacker according to the Pro Football Network NFL Draft team, and the 80th prospect overall.
If he continues to develop and fix the flaws in his game, he could find his name called early on the second day of the draft. If he plateaus in his second year as a linebacker, he could wind up being a third day selection.
Chris Spooner is an NFL Draft contributor for PFN. You can follow him on Twitter @CSpoonerPFN.