6’3 235 pounds
The rise of Haason Reddick has hurt Zach Cunningham’s ranking with many draft pundits. Consequently, Zach Cunningham is a player who is moving all around draft boards. I am one who believes he has not yet reached his ceiling. He will not be asked to do more than he can handle in the NFL. With more talent around him he will be able to play more in control, and that will help him immensely. In 2016 he became the first player in team history to be unanimously chosen, first team All-American honors. Leading the SEC in tackles with 125 gives you a glimpse of the player he was in college, and the stats he will bring into the NFL.
When I watch this guy play, it brings back memories of the old “Tecmo Bowl” game I played as a kid. I would take control of the MLB, where I would make plays all over the field. Zach Cunningham is that type of a player. Dropping into coverage he is aware of where he needs to be, his football smarts kick in, and he can anticipate where the offensive players are going. In the run game, he is not afraid of making contact. When he gets a good jump and a little burst he explodes into the offensive linemen.
Quick bursts allow him to move around guards quickly and make plays in the run game. Compiling 16.5 tackles for a loss last season also shows he can give fantasy owners those big play points you need to win. Above all, quick burst and the ability to turn and run are what I expect to see from a stud LB.
He checks the box of being able to, drop into coverage and getting to the ball carriers. I would be confident with him covering a TE or RB and handling his zone coverage responsibilities. If asked to get after the QB, he would use that quick burst, and speed to penetrate the heart of an offense or make a move on the edge. When he tackles it’s not a massive big a hit that a Reuben Foster delivers, even so, it is a jarring hit when he is in control. Sideline to sideline speed is incredible. Capable of chasing down ball carriers all over the field as well as in coverage are the traits that make him my top ranked LB. You can see his comps and measurable here.
I also would like to see some improvement in his ability to get off blocks when fooled by play action. His recovery is slow. Therefore this makes him a liability to big plays. Even so, this a coachable flaw; he also should work on hand technique, to help him get off the block quicker. I also would like to see him go lower on his tackling. On his missed tackles he is trying to tackle high, which prevents him at times to wrap up and make the tackles. Getting in low would fix this. If he is more in control and playing with more talent around him, I believe he would not over pursue, and this also would help his game.
I see him as a top tier LB. In fact, during his pro day, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was working him out on the tackling dummies. This left me smiling, one of the game’s best coaches giving him some one on one time. He could fall into the early second round. A few landing spots where I could see him becoming a special player are, San Francisco, Washington, Baltimore, Houston, and Green Bay. Able to step in and play weakside in a 43 or ILB in a 34 this guy is NFL ready. Sideline to sideline player who can play all three downs is what we all build our teams around. Ultimately, defensive coordinators around the league will fall in love with this chess piece.
This could change on draft day, but right now, I see him as a high tackle machine. I am in balanced scoring IDP leagues, and LB’s go all the time in the first round. Let Foster be that first LB off the board, and target Zach Cunningham in the early 2nd of your rookie drafts. I would be happy with all three of the top-tier LB’s but, this guy very well could be our defensive rookie of the year.
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