Linebacker Chazz Surratt of the North Carolina football team was named to the watchlist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy — an award denoting the best defensive player in college football — Tuesday, marking the third watchlist he was recognized for during the 2020 preseason.
Surratt had also been named to the preseason watchlists for the Butkus Award for the best linebacker and the Chuck Bednarik Award — another annual award given to the nation's top defensive player. All three of Surratt’s watchlist selections have come in July, as UNC attempts its return to the field amid COVID-19.
Entering his senior season, Surratt will look to build on the momentum of a breakout 2019 campaign. After playing quarterback his first two years in Chapel Hill, Surratt transitioned to linebacker and recorded 115 total tackles, including 6.5 sacks. His 115 tackles and 15 tackles-for-loss ranked 2nd and 5th in the ACC, respectively.
Surratt was named to the All-ACC first team and was the runner-up for the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award.
Surratt has garnered praise from NFL scouts after just one season at linebacker. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the senior listed as the No. 2 inside linebacker for the 2021 draft. Surratt looks set to be not only in the conversation for the best defender in the ACC, but could also looked at as a top defensive prospect in the country by the end of the season.
With high expectations in the preseason, the Surratt-led UNC defense will certainly rely on his leadership to take the team to the next level and content for a Coastal Division title.
North Carolina, which finished 7-6 last season, ranked No. 4 in the ACC in points per game allowed in 2019, giving up 23.7 per contest. On the other side of the ball, the Tar Heels posted an average of 33.1 points per game, tying them for 2nd in the ACC. The team struggled to win close games, but it certainly has the ability to keep games low scoring when needed. As Surratt enters his senior season, the Tar Heels could seek to follow his lead defensively as they did last year.
Since the award was created in 1993, no Tar Heel has ever won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy. There has also never been a Tar Heel to win the Butkus Award in its 34-year history. The last and only player from North Carolina to win the Chuck Bednarik Award was defensive end Julius Peppers in 2001.
This early recognition of Surratt’s game could serve as a confidence booster for the rising senior, and also plays as an indication of how well the defense could play next season.
With the exact makeup of the upcoming campaign up in the air, UNC playing a full 12-game schedule is still uncertain. With UNC's announcement of 37 positive COVID-19 cases among players, coaches and staff members on July 8, the team resumed voluntary workouts July 16.
The ACC is already considering different possibilities to execute a shortened season, and the idea of conference-only scheduling has been rumored as a possibility after the Big 10 and Pac-12 decided to do so. Still, it is still possible that the ACC could move to a conference-plus schedule, allowing UNC to play at least its week two date with Auburn.
As scheduled, North Carolina’s first game is against Central Florida on Sept. 4.