Where will Zach Cunningham land? The linebacker from Vanderbilt is a first-round talent. However, a run on cornerbacks or the potential of four quarterbacks taken in the first round may see the talented Commodore fall to the top part of the second round. This type of situation happens all the time. And when it does, a team not expecting to land such a dynamic player gets a steal.
Cunningham’s ability to tackle and cover running backs and tight ends in open space make him a fit for several “blue blood” NFL teams. Pittsburgh, Oakland, and the New York Giants could all have him in their sights. There are other teams that may see him in their scheme. Whoever takes him will be thankful they did.
The first unanimous All-American in Commodores’ history, Cunningham led the Southeastern Conference with 125 tackles (including 16.5 tackles for loss) in 2016. Thus, earning First Team All-SEC honors for the second consecutive season. This included an incredible 19 tackle performance in Vanderbilt’s road upset win over Georgia.
NFL teams hope he uses the same kind of intensity on the next level, which could be rewarded with All-Pro accolades down the line.
In this player profile, we will look at the strengths and weaknesses of Zach Cunningham as he moves on to the next level. We also include a few teams that will be interested in adding help to their linebacking unit.
Reads defenses well. Reacts to the play quickly. Cunningham shows good recognition and body control to slip cut blocks, as well, sprawling to maintain his balance and rarely losing sight of the ball. He is 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds. Cunningham is able to convert speed to power as a tackler. Additionally, he shows no hesitancy in the hole against big (or small) runners and ripping at the ball, when possible. But even so, Cunningham’s future in the NFL could be on the outside. Seeing that, he possesses the range and body control to excel in space. Reminds many of Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson.
While Cunningham’s size, athleticism, and awareness are certainly appealing, there is room for improvement, including in the most important area for any linebacker — tackling. In part because of Cunningham’s relatively lanky frame, his pad level is often higher while tackling then preferred. Zach Cunningham often wrestles runners to the ground with his upper-body strength rather than consistently driving them back through his hips. Needs to work on his balance.
New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings