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Draft Hunt: North Carolina LB Chazz Surratt

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Former quarterback Chazz Surratt might just be the most interesting linebacker prospect in the draft

NCAA Football: Duke at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

With only one week left in the regular season, we are highlighting some prospects that Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock may consider in the upcoming draft. You can take a look at all of our previous prospect reports here. Who would you like to see highlighted next week?

Linebacker is obviously the Raiders’ biggest need heading into the offseason, and fans are worried that the team won’t value the position highly based on some of Paul Guenther’s comments over the years.

“Before I became the coordinator in Cincinnati, I was a linebackers coach and I was always one to defer in the draft,” Guenther said in January of 2018. “If we had a better corner or rusher to take one of those two before the linebacker. We made a living in Cincinnati of getting guys as free agents, guys who were maybe former safeties, small-school guys.”

We’ve all been fawning over Isaiah Simmons, and debating on whether we’d rather have Kenneth Murray or Dylan Moses all season, but perhaps we should start looking at more high-upside guys who will be available in the third round, when the Raiders have three picks.

One sleeper who has really piqued my interest is Chazz Surratt, a first-year linebacker who converted from speedy left-handed quarterback to linebacker during the previous offseason. Surratt’s unconventional positional transition is documented thoroughly here:

While Surratt is still learning the ins and outs of the position, the 6-foot-3, 230 pound athlete improved greatly as the season went on. North Carolina mostly had him play in the middle of the defense, but he blitzed off the edge quite a bit and had some promising moments in the slot against spread teams.

Surratt shows exceptional sideline-to-sideline range and lateral agility, but you’d often like to see him scrape the frontside edge with a little more control, as he overpursues gaps constantly, allowing cutback lanes inside.

As a backside pursuit player, his range is ideal as he can fill cutback lanes and does quite well sifting through trash on his way to the ball carrier.

At times, it’s almost like Surratt is seeing past the blockers approaching him. This often works in his favor as he shimmies around linemen by using his speed and long arms to weave his way through. But he needs to work on his block destruction and will occasionally let blockers get into his chest.

As a tackler, he has a ways to to go despite the fact that he’s shown flashes of high-level physicality. Surratt just isn’t quite used to dishing out punishment on every play, and it shows up on film as he often dives at opponents legs or throws a shoulder as if he were a safety playing linebacker. He looks to cut the ball carrier down when he should actually wrap and drive, which will be detrimental against bigger backs at the NFL level if he keeps it up.

From watching his early season tape, it was clear that Surratt hadn’t developed natural linebacker instincts yet, as he’d be thrown off by misdirection plays time and time again. But as the season wore on, he started to bite on counters less often and became more effective at holding his gaps. While he doesn’t have amazing technique, he was still able to be a force against most teams with craftiness and sheer athleticism.

If it isn’t obvious at this point, Surratt is quite raw as a run defender. But this guy has the chance to be lethal as a pass defender, which is why he might end up being a Day 2 pick.

Although his instincts are somewhat lacking against the run, the former quarterback is a natural in both zone and man coverage. He gets great depth on his zone drops and does a good job reading the quarterbacks eyes and getting a jump on the ball to force tough throws.

While dropping to a spot in zone coverage, Surratt shows natural route recognition and an advanced understanding of route combinations that many NFL veterans will never be able to possess.

Along with route recognition, the junior linebacker does well to get his head turned around in order to make a play on the ball when he sees a receivers’ hands go up for the pass. That’s a critical skill that can’t easily be taught, and it will help Surratt avoid penalties in coverage at the next level.

One of the things the Raiders have truly been missing is a guy who can capably match up with tight ends and running backs in man coverage, and Surratt seems built to do so. He is sticky as hell on running backs due to an excellent ability to change direction at a moment’s notice. And with his big frame and lengthy arms, he’s an ideal guy to send out on Travis Kelce or Hunter Henry twice a season.

While Surratt is great in coverage, you don’t want him dropping back on every passing down, as that would be a disservice to his excellent blitzing skill. While he was productive at all levels this season with 110 tackles, 6 pass deflections, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble, the 6 sacks on his ledger tells a lot about his blitzing acumen.

Stunting mainly off the edge, Surratt is confident, hard-charging, and maybe even a little bit overzealous as a blitzer. He knows how it feels to be blitzed and he wants the opposing quarterback to feel his presence. With many people suggesting that Guenther needs to get more exotic with his blitz calls, Surratt would give him another chess piece.

Surratt is the type of player who could be a big riser with a strong combine due to his unlikely path to the linebacker position. As a Raider, he’d fit in ideally at the Will linebacker spot and could even start off in the sub package passing down role if he isn’t ready to handle the responsibilities that come with defending the run at the NFL level.

Remember, Surratt has only played the linebacker position for one season. Even in high school he played quarterback and safety. Most of his foibles are correctable and will develop with time, giving him a sky-high ceiling if his mind and body can continue to develop.

Draft Range: Mid-third to early-fourth round