Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt [ILB/ OLB] – Tom Like

Name: Zach Cunningham

Position: ILB/ OLB

School: Vanderbilt

Class: Junior

Height: 6 foot 4 (school measurements)

Weight: 230lbs (school measurements)

40-time: N/A

Games Watched: 2015 – Texas A&M, Tennessee. 2016 – Florida, Georgia, Missouri

Honours:

  • 2016 Unanimous All-American
  • 2016 First Team All-SEC
  • 2015 First Team All-SEC

 

Production:

Cunningham participated in 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2014. He started the final five games at ILB in the teams 3-4 Defense. Finished the season with 67 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 Sacks, 1 FF and 2 passes broken up (PB).

Cunningham’s production as a redshirt sophomore in 2015 were noticed by coaches and analysts who named the Linebacker First Team All-SEC. In 12 games, he compiled 103 total tackles, 16.5 TFL, 4.5 Sacks, 4 FFs and 3 PBs.

He excelled in 2016 on a poor Vanderbilt team and was honoured by being named a Unanimous All-America. In 13 games, Cunningham stacked up 125 total tackles, 16.5 TFL, 2 FFs, 3 PBs and 1 Kick/ Punt Block. 

(Frederick Breedon/ Getty Images)

 

Strengths

Cunningham was the bright spot on a poor Commodores football team. He was superb against top competition, averaging 11.1 tackles vs 8 SEC opponents in 2016. He is a bright underclassmen, majoring in economics and should impress teams during the interview phase of the scouting process.

Cunningham’s tape really speaks for itself. He’s an intelligent Linebacker who’s first steps are always in the right direction. He has the speed and power to make the most of his excellent insicts and recognition skills. He closes quickly on the Line of Scrimmage and is a phenomenal run defender. He shows maturity at the position as he takes shuffle steps towards the point of attack allowing him to stack-and-shed Tight Ends, disrupting running lanes. He has impressive natural strength for his lean frame and can drive back blockers.

Not only does he survive in coverage, he excels. He can jam Tight Ends at the Line of Scrimmage and can push slot receivers off their spot. He has great pop in his hips and is freaky athletic, moving and flowing in coverage. With some coaching at the NFL level, Cunningham could excel in coverage on 3rd and longs.

 

Weaknesses

For all Cunningham’s instincts and athletic ability to get into the backfield, Cunningham is not a sure tackler. This is due to his large and lanky frame, resulting in an elevated pad level, leading to missed tackles. He has a tendency to attack ball carriers up high, rather than down low, and will slide off way too many would-be tackles.

His high waist and skinny legs mean he’s not a banger or bend-and-strike finisher. Cunningham can badly whiff at times on plays and needs to become a more consistent tackler. He’s currently listed at 6 foot 4, 230lbs – but he’s probably closer to the 215-230lbs range. He needs to gain strength and weight before the Combine – his weight will impact how teams view him. There are also reports out there that his production is more quantity over quality, as Cunningham is dividing opinion amongst scouts

 

Bottom Line

While Cunningham could stand to gain from adding weight; his size, athleticism and natural instincts make him quite the appealing prospect. His combination of athleticism and intelligence is rare for players his age.

Cunningham has excellent recognition and aggression in the run game, alongside the athleticism to make stunning plays. He’s got sideline-to-sideline range with great instincts and tremendous play speed. Cunningham has a real nose for the football in the run game, but is athletic enough to excel in coverage and become a three down Linebacker in the ‘pass happy’ modern NFL.

Cunningham could be a playmaking machine if he’s left uncovered, allowing him to fly around and get after the football. He plays on a downhill tilt and is fast to see it, process it and react. He could have great Special Teams value early on and his downhill approach is ideal for an Attacking 4-3 scheme.

He is likely to be moved to the outside by certain Coaching Staffs. Teams might fall in love with the body and athleticism, over the football player. Cunningham is young and an intriguing prospect who is likely to divide opinion. I believe with the necessary weight gain – Cunningham could become a good early starter either as a run-and-chase Weak-side Linebacker or an Inside Linebacker who lives around the Line of Scrimmage in a 3-4 scheme. His tackling is a concern – but teams will hope they can clean this up through coaching.

 

Round Grade

Early 2nd Round

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