Looking back at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ road to the Super Bowl, one thing stood out to me from a defensive standpoint. While the defense had playmakers on every level with guys like Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Antoine Winfield Jr., the defense’s heartbeat was in the middle, with linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David running the show.
Take the NFC Championship game as an example. White seemed to be all over the field, leading both teams in tackles with 15, almost double the next closest player, Kenny Clark, who recorded eight. In the modern NFL, you need a linebacker who can run sideline to sideline, covering every blade of grass to make plays and captain a defense.
UNC’s Chazz Surratt could be the player that the Green Bay Packers use to anchor their defense.
When looking at the tape of Surratt’s games at UNC, it’s evident that he’s extremely athletic and plays the game at high speed. While some players with his level of athleticism would coast on their skill in college, Surratt uses it in tandem with his high motor when attacking instead of waiting on the game to come to him. He also has the size of an NFL-ready middle linebacker at 6’3”, 230 lbs.
Surratt 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.
As a run defender, Surratt has the speed to shut down runs that go to the outside, along with the physicality to get in the middle of the action to make a tackle. He uses his burst to chase down extremely athletic ballcarriers.
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 close to no yards after the catch. He also uses his top-end speed to close the gaps between him and the receiver and break on the ball.
He even has upside as a pass rusher. He recorded 12.5 sacks in the past two seasons for the Tar Heels, using his speed and a swim move to blow past lineman and disrupt the quarterback in the pocket.
While rookies Kamal Martin and Krys Barnes showed some flashes when they saw time on the field, they pale in comparison to what a fully developed Surratt could be, both in terms of athleticism and overall ceiling.
Both his college teammates and UNC head coach Mack Brown rave about his impressive football intelligence. Surratt was a quarterback for most of his life and even was the starting quarterback for the Tar Heels in 2017 before a 2018 wrist injury ruled him out for the season. He made the transition to linebacker that offseason.
There is no reason to assume that he can’t get better with a bit of technical refinement at the next level and settle into the middle linebacker position, setting the tone for the rest of the defense. While he is currently projected to be a Day 2 pick, I see no reason why Surratt couldn’t immediately slot into a starting role for the Packers as he continues to develop.