EAGAN, Minn. — A Vikings squad that added to all levels of its defense when free agency opened has focused on that side of the ball with their second pick of the second night of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Minnesota selected North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt with the 78th overall pick.
"I'm just thankful for the opportunity to be picked by such a great organization," Surratt said shortly after his selection. "I'm really fired up and ready to get up there in Minnesota and try to be the best player I can for this organization."
Making it to the NFL, he said, had been a dream of his since he was 7 years old.
"For me, I've always been a football player at heart," Surratt said from his parents' home near Charlotte, North Carolina. "I love to compete and win, so I've always been a football player, and it's really the only thing I saw myself doing as I grew up. Luckily I've got the opportunity to do that now."
View photos of North Carolina LB Chazz Surratt who was selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The realization occurs just two years after Surratt made the improbable switch from quarterback, where he began his college career with the Tar Heels in 2017 on the heels of winning Parade National Player of the Year and Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year awards as a QB.
Remarkably, he finished the 2019 season as the runner-up for ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and followed with his second consecutive First-Team All-ACC selection in 2020.
"It was a move that I thought ultimately would get me to this point," Surratt said. "I'm thankful for the coaches and teammates I had along the way. I wouldn't be here without them. I'm thankful for the opportunity Coach [Mack] Brown gave me. A lot of hard work was put into it, and I had strong support from my family, both of my parents and my brother (Sage). That's a big reason why I'm here."
NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah had a witty response to Surratt's selection by Minnesota.
"Rarely do you ever see the quarterback-linebacker move," Jeremiah said. "Can you imagine Kurt Warner trying to play linebacker? No shot whatsoever.
"[Surratt] is a fluid mover, a smooth athlete. … He's got some physicality to him and a little bit of thump, coming downhill. You see him shoot gaps, no matter who it is, and bringing his feet on contact for some good-sized hits," Jeremiah added. "He's got range and athleticism and can really, really run. You see it show up on every tape. The instincts in coverage, you would imagine as a former quarterback, is comfortable and has a good sense of route combinations and jumping routes to go make plays on the ball. He does that. He's also a very good blitzer."
Vikings Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson said the Vikings like Surratt's instincts and athleticism.
"[The switch] just tells you what kind of athlete that Chazz is, because he really only had one spring, the spring before the '19 season, at the linebacker spot," Stephenson said. "And he really was just so productive, and it really just kind of came natural to him. And then he built upon that this season.
"Really, he's an incredible athlete. He's a guy that was recruited by Roy Williams at North Carolina as a basketball player, as well," Stephenson added. "That tells you what kind of athlete we're dealing with."
Stephenson was able to see Surratt live in a game against Notre Dame and described him as a "phenomenal playmaker."
"I believe the first series he made, like, three or four plays in a row," Stephenson said. "He's a great blitzer; you just see the speed, sideline-to-sideline; his instincts, for a guy who's only played linebacker for two years, are unbelievable. We're very excited about him and his upside and what he brings to the Vikings."
Surratt totaled 207 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and two interceptions in his two seasons on the defensive side of the ball.
Surratt is expected to add to a group of Vikings linebackers that was decimated by injuries in 2020. Anthony Barr, who thrived at linebacker after switching from running back at UCLA, didn't play six full quarters before suffering a torn pectoral muscle. Eric Kendricks missed the final five games of last season after suffering a calf injury during a practice.
Barr and Kendricks are set to return in 2021, and Surratt could be their new running mate in Minnesota's 4-3 base defense, or it could be veteran Nick Vigil, who signed during free agency, or 2020 fourth-round pick Troy Dye.
Asked about Barr and Kendricks, Surratt said, "I know they're really good linebackers in this league, so I'm going to try to learn the most I can from them."
"They've played a while in the league at a high level, so the opportunity to be around that type of guys will be good for me, and I'll just try to soak up as much as I can," he added. "I'll just try to be a sponge, really."
Surratt ran the 40 in 4.59 seconds and the 3-cone drill in 7.04 seconds. His vertical was 31.5 inches.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said Minnesota wanted to "create a lot of depth and competition" at linebacker with the understanding of the important role that position can play on special teams.
"The one thing we always emphasized is speed and athleticism at the linebacker positions," Spielman said. "Not only because of how this league has evolved into a passing league but also how the speed and athleticism will show up and help our special teams. He's the modern NFL-type linebacker.
"It's amazing when you sat there and broke him down on tape and how he only played two years at linebacker," Spielman added. "We felt he had such natural instincts for the position that he could cover and he could run and he could hit. He has things he has to work on just like all these rookies. But he has all the physical traits to fit our system and be a good NFL linebacker."
Surratt will now turn his focus to seeing where Sage, a receiver at Wake Forest who declared for the draft as a redshirt junior, is picked.
"Our whole family is waiting on Sage to get drafted, as well," Surratt said. "We're sitting on pins and needles, waiting for him to get drafted. The night's not over. This weekend is not over until he gets drafted, so I'm looking at the board to see where he gets drafted. I'm really excited for his opportunity, too."