After sitting out the second round, the Minnesota Vikings sprung into action in the third, taking Kellen Mond, Chazz Surratt, Wyatt Davis, and Patrick Jones II. All four selections were generally met with positive reactions, but fans seemed most lukewarm about Surratt.
Most of the reactions I saw while scrolling through social media expressed confusion about the pick. With a gaping hole at guard and Wyatt Davis on the board, most fans wondered why the Vikings decided to take a linebacker when they already have Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr on the roster.
However, the pick makes sense when you look at the big picture.
Barr’s restructured deal this offseason provided the Vikings with some much-needed cap space, but it also allowed him to test free agency after this year. While everyone would love to have Barr back in purple, he could very well play himself out of Minnesota’s price range, so taking a linebacker early had to be in their plans.
Surratt might be the best Day 2 selection that the Vikings made last night.
Looking back at the tape of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense during this year’s playoffs, I noticed how crucial it was for them to have speed at the linebacker position. Having Devin White and Lavonte David able to cover every blade of grass from sideline to sideline made everyone else’s job much easier, and it allowed for simplified roles for the other members of the defense.
When looking at the tape of Surratt’s games at UNC, you can see that he is exceptionally athletic and plays the game at a high speed. Despite having a rather impressive 40-yard dash time of 4.59 seconds, Surratt plays much faster than that on tape, hitting the hole with an incredible burst of speed.
Some players with his level of athleticism would coast on their skill to get them through the college game. But Surratt uses his natural ability in tandem with his high motor when attacking opposing offenses instead of waiting on the game to come to him. He can cover the entire field, moving from sideline to sideline at ease and hitting top speed almost instantly with his quick twitch that helped him record 91 tackles this season for the Tar Heels on his way to his second all First-Team ACC nomination.
He’s a bit undersized at 6’3” and just 230 lbs., but he can fill out his frame by adding some muscle to help him compete at the next level. He already has a decent amount of strength, racking up 20 reps on the bench press at his pro day. He also has good length for a linebacker, with long arms that can allow him to get off blocks easier.
As a run defender, Surratt has the speed to shut down plays that go to the outside. He also has the physicality to get in the middle of the action to make a tackle. He uses his burst to chase down extremely athletic ball carriers and make a stop. His instincts and explosive athleticism allow him to blow up plays before they have a chance to develop.
He isn’t just limited to being a run-stuffer at the next level. When he defends the pass, he can shadow tight ends in tight man coverage and bring them down, allowing few if any yards after the catch. He also uses his top-end speed to close the gaps between him and the receiver so he can make a break on the ball.
And he has upside as a pass rusher. He recorded 12.5 sacks for the Tar Heels in the past two seasons, using a swim move to blow past lineman and disrupt the quarterback in the pocket. UNC took advantage of his incredible athleticism and would send him on blitzes, almost having him play downhill.
Despite all Surratt’s merits, there are a few areas in which he could stand to improve at the NFL level.
While his ceiling is as high as any linebacker in this class, Surratt is extremely raw at the position. He has only played linebacker for two years, switching over from quarterback after next year’s projected first-round pick, Sam Howell, beat him out. Despite how well he has done to pick up the position in just two seasons, he still has plenty to learn.
In his first season at linebacker, Surratt missed 27 tackles and took some bad angles on certain plays. He sometimes throws himself at the play a bit recklessly. Despite this meaningful shortcoming, he cut his missed tackles down by over half last season, only missing 11 tackles as he showed an improved understanding of how to take better angles to make plays.
The coaches at North Carolina raved about his work ethic and desire to get better at linebacker as quickly as possible, despite making the transition in the same offseason where he underwent wrist surgery. “You still saw that want,” said UNC co-defensive coordinator Tommy Thigpen, “even though he only had the use of one hand, you saw a want and desire to get better every single day.”
He could really hit his full potential under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, with some guidance from both Kendricks and Barr. With this pick, it felt like Zimmer was betting on his ability to turn this explosive athlete into a high-end NFL linebacker within a few years.
Surratt will likely compete with Nick Vigil, Troy Dye, and Cameron Smith for the third linebacker position heading into this next season. He looks to improve even more in the technical aspects of the game to balance his electrifying athletics and his heady play on the field. Though he might not see as much time on the field as the other rookies, he can prove to be a valuable special teamer while learning the technical aspects of the linebacker position.
Given the situation that he landed in and the fact that there isn’t an immediate need for him to contribute, I see no reason why Surratt can’t develop into a high-end linebacker within a few seasons.