The second level of the New England Patriots defense will likely be undergoing some turnover in the coming weeks — something that it has become accustomed too in recent seasons.
The 2019 offseason saw a revamping of the previous year’s linebacking group with the additions of Jamie Collins and Chase Winovich. Last offseason saw the departure of Collins alongside multi-year starters Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts to free agency and defensive signal caller and captain Dont’a Hightower to an opt-out, with additions coming in the form of rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.
With the return of Hightower and likely expanded roles for Uche and Jennings, the Patriots will be looking for depth options, and a potential long-term replacement for Hightower. Perhaps they look for a linebacker with all of the physical tools, who’s still learning the position.
Name: Chazz Surratt
School: UNC (Redshirt Senior)
Opening day age: 24
2020 stats: 11 games; 91 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 1 interception.
Size: 6’3”, 230 lbs
Expected round: Day 2
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: LB #21 Chazz Surratt (North Carolina) 6’3” 230lbs.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) February 28, 2021
• Developmental prospect with elite physical tools.
• Quick learner, First-Team All-ACC selection in first year at LB.
• Great range, plays best in pursuit, sideline to sideline player. pic.twitter.com/w46BBjYCtV
Strengths: Chazz Surratt is perhaps the most physically gifted linebacker in the 2021 NFL draft. The former dual-threat quarterback has carried over his elite running ability during his transition to linebacker despite adding considerable size, showing tremendous range in his two years at the position. A true sideline-to-sideline defender, Surratt has the skills that teams are looking for in a new age linebacker.
Surratt is at his best moving laterally. Allows him to show off that dual threat background and keeps him out of trouble in the middle. Here he is making a tackle on D’Eriq King ona broken play.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) February 28, 2021
95% of college linebackers get shaken off here, not Surratt. pic.twitter.com/kAiF6vS3Lg
Though he is raw in coverage, Surratt has a great feel in zone, and has the tools to be competitive in man coverage immediately. He’s got the length to cover tight ends and the speed to keep up with running backs.
At his best, Surratt is playing downhill with his decisions already being made for him. Whether that comes as a blitzer or when he’s only responsible for a single gap, he has tremendous survival instincts, making the correct play when forced to react. He is physical enough to mix it up in the middle gaps on early downs and he has developed a great knack for timing up blitzes and finding ways to get home to the quarterback.
Here’s an in game example. Relentless motor combined with the speed and timing are all pluses. pic.twitter.com/HSw053Cv0x— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) February 28, 2021
Weaknesses: Pretty much all of Surratt’s “weaknesses” stem from his inexperience at the linebacker position. Spending just the past two seasons on the defensive side of the ball, there is still a ton that Surratt will need to learn to reach his full potential.
The biggest thing that seems to be missing from Surratt’s game are instincts. The small things like knowing when to trigger downhill on a broken play, being able to feel for blocks on a backside run, and his timing when looking to fill a gap are all a bit off. All of that is expected to come with time, but certainly stands out when compared to the more experienced players at the position.
As it would be expected, Surratt’s physicality is also not quite what you would want out of a linebacker. Not that he is afraid to get physical, but the pop behind his pads is still lacking a bit. This contributes to the biggest worry that most teams will have for him, and that is his ability to get off of blocks. Though he’s shown a great ability to avoid them, once an offensive lineman engages with Surratt, he is pretty much down for the count.
Here’s an example of what happens when Surratt is forced to play strictly in the middle. Not great. pic.twitter.com/nmEQbvK7T5— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) February 28, 2021
Though he lacks some of the big things you would look for out of an off-ball linebacker, there is a lot of hope that Surratt will develop into a more complete player with some experience.
What would be his role? To get the most out of Chazz Surratt, he should initially play the part of a developmental prospect. That means little playing time early on, while doing everything he can to soak up some knowledge from Dont’a Hightower and whatever other veteran linebackers the Patriots choose to add before the season. It is not a sexy role by any means, but one that may be necessary.
Once Surratt develops as a true linebacker, the sky should be the limit. You don’t usually draft a linebacker in the first two rounds if you don’t believe he can eventually lead your defense, and that is certainly the ceiling for a guy like Surratt.
Does he have positional versatility? Surratt’s physical profile should give him the versatility to play in multiple spots. He spent his college career as a Mike linebacker, leading the Tar Heel defense for two full seasons. He projects to play a weak-side role in a 4-3 defense but with his size and speed combo there is no doubt he could play on the outside of a 3-4 front if given time to develop.
Long story short, give Surratt time to learn one of the many spots he’s capable of playing and unleash him once you feel he’s ready.
Who’s his competition? I don’t believe there is any competition for Surratt because of the litany of spots he could be put into. If he were to be drafted by the Patriots, the sense is that he would be tasked with learning behind one of the starters this season, and taking over in 2022.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots love to have themselves a contingency plan for aging stars. We saw them draft Kyle Dugger to learn behind Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung (before his opt-out) with their top selection of 2020. Perhaps they use another second, on their future in the middle of their defense...
Why not the Patriots? Maybe the Patriots feel they have enough assets tied up into the development of the future of their linebacking corps. Though Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings are more likely to take over outside roles, the Patriots have expended a lot of resources into making them NFL linebackers. Are they willing to spend more?
Verdict: Though I think Chazz Surratt has the potential to be a great linebacker at the next level, there are a lot of factors that suggest he is not quite the right fit for New England at this point in time. The Patriots need linebackers and they need them now; they don’t need another project on their hands. A team like Indianapolis, Minnesota, or even Seattle would be more likely to spend such a high capital on a project.