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Surratt Completes Transformation

By Dave Holcomb
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Not only did former quarterback Chazz Surratt start for North Carolina on defense, he developed into a star.

Chazz Surratt appeared capable of becoming an NFL draft pick when he was in high school -- but at quarterback.

Surratt starred behind center in high school, becoming a two-time first-team Associated Press all-state selection in North Carolina. As a senior, he earned the titles Parade National Player of the Year and Associated Press North Carolina offensive player of the year.

But that success wouldn’t continue when Surratt began his college career at North Carolina. After a redshirt season, he then appeared at quarterback in 10 games during 2017 and 2018, but the results were mostly disastrous for him and his team. He completed under 58% of his passes with 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while the Tar Heels went 5-18.

If not his play, the firing of Larry Fedora marked the end of Surratt’s future as North Carolina’s signal caller. But he didn’t transfer like so many players nowadays do. Instead, he switched positions -- not to wide receiver, tight end or some kind of hybrid skilled position but linebacker.

But not only did Surratt start for North Carolina on defense, he developed into a star. Now, he’s an NFL third-round pick at linebacker and is one of the most intriguing Day 2 prospects from the 2021 NFL Draft.

As if switching from quarterback to linebacker at the college level over the course of one offseason wasn’t impressive enough, Surratt led the North Carolina defense in several statistical categories. No one posted more tackles or tackles for loss for the Tar Heels the past two seasons. He was also second on the team in sacks.

Surratt accomplished this despite producing what NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein called “inconsistent tape.”

While on one hand his lack of defensive experience may have scared away teams during the draft process, it’s also what makes him a fascinating player to watch. He led his team with 115 total tackles, including 15.0 for loss during his first season at linebacker. Surratt followed that up with 91 total tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss in two fewer games in 2020.

Imagine what he can do when he gets even more snaps and grows more comfortable at linebacker.

“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,” wrote Zierlein. “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.”

Zierlein also noted that while Surratt continues to learn the finer details of how to play linebacker, he should excel on special teams because of his work ethic.

That work ethic fits the personality of his new coach, Mike Zimmer. Entering his eighth season with the Vikings, Zimmer has an old-school, no-nonsense approach, which bodes well for Surratt.

But it’s not as if Surratt doesn’t also have talent and athleticism. He wouldn’t have been able to switch to linebacker from quarterback as quickly and successfully as he has without both athleticism and a great work ethic. Defenders with both traits are the type of players that will help get the Vikings back to the postseason.

In Zimmer’s first six seasons in Minnesota, the Vikings never allowed more than 341 points on defense. Then last year, they yielded 475 points -- 172 more points than they allowed in 2019. Just three years prior, the Vikings defense was one of the best in the league with only 252 points allowed (15.75).

A completely new secondary in 2020 was the biggest contributor to the dropoff in the Vikings defense. At linebacker, Minnesota still has 2019 All-Pro Eric Kendricks and four-time Pro Bowler Anthony Barr, who only played in two games during 2020 because of a torn pectoral muscle.

But Surratt will add depth at a key defensive position group. It’s better for him not to need to start anyway as he learns the nuances of linebacker.

Whether or not Surratt becomes a star at linebacker in the NFL, his transformation from 3-star quarterback to third-round draft pick at linebacker has been a tremendous story. Based on how hard he works, his story may just be beginning.