A closer look at the Vikings 3rd round defender
The Vikings selected LB Chazz Surratt with the 78th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Surratt, who is an older prospect at 24, is a converted quarterback who has only played linebacker at North Carolina for the past two seasons. Those two factors don’t typically result in a 3rd round draft pick, but Surratt has shown a lot of promise- and production- on the field that helped raise his draft stock.
Surratt’s athletic profile and measurables are similar in many respects to Eric Kendricks, shown below. In describing Surratt’s athletic profile, Tony Pauline described it this way in his evaluation of Surratt:
He’s an exceptional athlete, and he plays relatively 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. – Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network
Surratt has the desired speed and range for a linebacker, and is a twitchy defender that can get off and change directions quickly. But his smaller size and short arms will make it difficult for him to perform traditional stack-and-shed duties inside the tackles in run defense.
College Grades and Stats
After converting from quarterback to linebacker his junior year at North Carolina, Surratt finished as the runner-up for ACC Defensive Player of the Year and earned first-team all-conference honors after leading the team with 115 tackles (2nd most in the ACC), 15 for loss, with 6.5 sacks, while also intercepting one pass and breaking up three others. His 31 total QB pressures ranked 7th among Power-5 conference linebackers. Not bad for his first year playing defense or linebacker.
In 2020, he was named team captain and started 11 games for UNC as a senior, garnering first-team All-ACC accolades with 91 tackles, 7.5 for loss, with six sacks, an interception and three pass breakups. He was named UNC’s defensive MVP, and was a semi-finalist for both the Lott and Butkus awards.
Surratt had a very particular role as a read-and-react defender in North Carolina’s defense, to the point where he really seemed to play a spy role focused entirely on reading the quarterback and backfield and reacting accordingly. He seldom, if ever, had particular coverage responsibilities other than simply as a middle zone defender, something akin to a second-level free safety. His focus pre-snap was always on the quarterback, and he appeared unconcerned with anything else- by design.
As a former quarterback, he could read the play quickly, and using his quick twitch and athletic ability, quickly react as the play unfolded. He was asked to blitz a fair amount, and was usually pretty effective, whether coming from off the edge or blasting through the middle. As a run defender, he needed to be kept clean to be effective, as he struggled to stack-and-shed blockers. That led to some bad games, like against Virginia Tech, when linemen were able to take him out. As a tackler, he was often effective squaring up his target and wrapping up, but there were a number of occasions when he went in too high, which could result in missed tackles, and probably more so in the NFL if not corrected. He didn’t always take the correct angle in pursuit as well, which he’ll need to improve upon too. He didn’t have much, if anything, on tape in man coverage, although I suspect he could do fine covering a tight end or a running back. Not sure he’s ready or experienced enough in coverage to take on a slot receiver in the NFL, however. His coverage appears to be focused on watching the quarterback and reacting to where the ball is thrown, without much regard for receivers in his zone.
The tape shows a player who is still very inconsistent and uncertain at diagnosing the action, attacking angles and feeling play development. However, you look up and he’s chalked up the stat sheet once again. Surratt’s move from quarterback to productive linebacker speaks to his toughness and athletic ability. Even with linebacker instincts that are underdeveloped, he still finds his way to the football thanks to an unwavering level of determination combined with physical talent. Surratt may be too “feast or famine” to find early playing time, but he’s still new at the position and known for his work ethic, so improvement is likely. He might need to play Will linebacker, where he has the freedom to react and chase rather than being forced to process as much. While he continues to learn and polish his skills at linebacker, he should step right into a role as a special teams ace. – Lance Zierlein
Positives: Underrated linebacker with a three-down game. Breaks down well, flows to the action and shows resilience. Uses his hands to protect himself, is fluid moving laterally, and possesses a closing burst to the play. Instinctive, quick to read and diagnose, and remains disciplined with assignments.
Easily changes direction and immediately alters his angle of attack without losing momentum. Gets depth on pass drops and shows excellent range. Fast in pursuit and quickly gets out to the flanks defending the run. Patient, fires upfield and fills the correct gaps in run defense. Squares and wraps up tackling.
Negatives: Not a big or stout linebacker. Easily sealed from the action and gets out-positioned by blocks. More of a drag-down tackler.
Analysis: Surratt was a consistent playmaking linebacker for North Carolina the past two years and is a complete three-down defender who is effective pursuing the run or covering the pass. He’ll be downgraded because of average size and play speed, yet Surratt offers starting potential in the proper system. – Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network
Surratt’s first year at linebacker was in 2019 and he was outstanding. Appearing in all 13 games with 11 starts, Surratt was a First-Team All-ACC selection and runner-up for ACC Defensive Player of the Year. With 115 tackles, Surratt led the Tar Heels and finished second in the ACC with 88 tackles per game. Surratt logged 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and 10 quarterback hurries. He took another step forward in 2020, becoming more polished when it comes to coverage drops, pursuit angles, and tackling. Surratt is an exciting package of size, mobility, and physicality, but there are times studying his tape when you are reminded that he is still new to the position. Surratt will need to continue developing at the position and if he does, he has the makings of a starting pursuit-style linebacker that can make plays on every down.
Tackling: Surratt significantly improved his tackling skills when comparing 2019 to 2020. While he’s never been adverse to contact, his angels were sloppy in 2019 and it didn’t set him up for success to finish with consistency. That improved greatly in 2020 and Surratt showcased a consistent ability to finish by playing more under control, arriving on time, wrapping up, and bringing his feet through contact.
Football IQ: A converted quarterback in 2019, Surratt is still new to the position and there are times that it shows. While his processing and play-diagnosing skills improved in 2020, there are times he is moved out of his run fits with tardy/incorrect responses. He did show improved comfort in zone coverage drops when it comes to anticipating and squeezing routes in 2020.
Competitive Toughness: Surratt is a tremendous competitor and he’s a physical player. His willingness to stick at North Carolina and switch to linebacker after playing quarterback speaks to his competitive toughness. He is willing to take on contact and he’s an urgent player in pursuit.
Pass Coverage Ability: Surratt has the movement skills needed to reach his landmarks in zone coverage and match up with running backs and tight ends in man coverage. He demonstrated improved route-anticipation skills in 2020. His quarterback background shows up in zone drops where he often reads the backfield and fluidly works into throwing lanes.
Run Defending: Surratt has some impressive moments triggering downhill and stopping the run where he processes quickly, commits, and finishes. When he’s kept clean and can fill a window, Surratt closes rapidly and is a good finisher. Some of his angles need to be tighter so that he doesn’t inadvertently widen gaps/create cutback opportunities.
Block Deconstruction: Surratt’s technique for taking on blocks and disengaging improved when comparing 2019 to 2020. He is on the leaner side so there are times he gets worked out of his feet and he would be well-served to add more functional strength and play with more consistent leverage when taking on blocks. North Carolina gave him regular opportunities to blitz and he needs to do a better job having a plan to defeat blocks.
Lateral Mobility: Surratt has outstanding range and mobility. He has easy movement skills working toward the sideline and he closes in a hurry. He’s lateral pursuit reveals natural mobility without segmentation.
Flexibility: Surratt is springy and agile. He has fluid change of direction skills with easy transitions. He can carry speed through tight angles and finish outside of his frame.
Leadership: Surratt was once the starting quarterback at North Carolina and he became a team captain at linebacker which speaks to his leadership traits in multiple ways. Morphing from quarterback to a top linebacker prospect in a short period of time speaks to his work ethic and commitment to football. His multi-sport background shows up on the football field and it’s obvious that he loves to compete.
Versatility: Surratt has the makings of an every-down linebacker in the NFL. He’s quickly become experienced in man coverage, zone coverage, rushing the passer, and, of course, defending the run. For an off-ball linebacker, there aren’t any restrictions to how he can help a defense. – Joe Marino, The Draft Network
Surratt, while having only two years experience playing defense, brings a fairly unique perspective as a defender who previously played quarterback for a Power-5 school. He was very productive from his first start at linebacker, and has the modern skillset for a 3-down linebacker in the NFL.
Surratt could compete initially for a starting WILL linebacker spot, and depending on the defensive scheme changes Mike Zimmer announced he was making a couple months ago, could have some type of hybrid LB/S or overhang defender role. He’ll need to continue to learn the nuances of the position, and adapt body and mind to the NFL game. Getting more work in coverage, both zone and man, would make him a more complete player. But Surratt comes with big play ability as a blitzer, and possesses a unique read-and-react ability that if he can fill out his skill set a bit more, could grow into an impact defender for the Vikings.
In the meantime, Surratt also has the skillset to be an excellent core special teamer.