It’s not uncommon for college quarterbacks to switch positions. Sometimes they are just better fits to play receiver, running back, tight end, or even in the secondary. It’s not often that a quarterback makes the change to linebacker, though, but that’s exactly the case for North Carolina’s Chazz Surratt.
After a decorated high school career at East Lincoln High School, Surratt came to UNC to play quarterback. A two-time first-team AP all-state selection, Surratt broke the North Carolina state record for career total yards with 16,593 and for touchdowns responsible for with 229 scores. He’s the most prolific high school offensive football player in state history.
Surratt’s career at quarterback got off to a somewhat promising start. Earning seven starts as a redshirt freshman in 2017, Surratt completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 1,342 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
Set to become the Tarheels’ starter at quarterback in 2018, Surratt was suspended for the first four games of the season because he sold team-issued sneakers. When he returned to the lineup, Surratt completed 4-of-10 passes for 10 yards and three interceptions before injuring his wrist, which required season-ending surgery.
When his wrist healed and he was ready to return to the field, discussions between Surratt and then head coach Larry Fedora began regarding a switch to the defensive side of the football. Surratt considered a transfer to another university to continue as a quarterback but he met with newly hired head coach Mack Brown regarding his status with the program and he decided to stay. Surratt made it clear to Brown that it was his goal to play in the NFL and both agreed his best course was to make the transition to linebacker.
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.
After a promising first season at linebacker, Surratt enters 2020 primed to continue developing at the position and solidify his draft stock. Earning plenty of national recognition, Surratt was named to the Nagurski Trophy, Butkus Award, and Bednarik Award watch lists.
Surratt and the Tar Heels defense got off to a terrific start in 2020, limiting Syracuse to just six points and 202 total yards. North Carolina shut down the Orange’s rushing attack, holding them to just 1.9 yards per rush on 35 attempts. The leader of the defense, Surratt was a big reason why.
Surratt continued to stuff the stat sheet with nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and two quarterback hurries. For his efforts, Surratt was named ACC Linebacker of the Week.
When watching Surratt play, his blend of size and athleticism immediately shows up. He has terrific range and can play in space, which is required to survive on the second level of defenses in today’s NFL. And while he is still new to playing the defensive side of the ball, he’s a physical football player that hunts football with impressive enthusiasm.
What stood out to me most against Syracuse is how much quicker of a processor Surratt showed to be compared to his 2019 tape. While UNC still plays him as more of a pursuit style linebacker, his trigger, play speed, and confidence executing his assignments were noticeably better. In addition, his coverage awareness and anticipation were terrific. While he did miss one tackle against Syracuse, his form and angles to the football were better than what we saw in 2019 when he missed nearly 20% of his tackles.
Surratt’s continued development at linebacker in such a short period of time speaks to his natural talent, work ethic, and competitiveness. His purpose for the transition was to give himself the best chance to play in the NFL, now it’s just a matter of how high he gets drafted.