Linebacker Zach Cunningham left Vanderbilt with quite a legacy. The three-year starter put together one of the most productive careers ever. He registered 256 total tackles and 36 tackles for loss and pitched in six sacks, to boot.
His play in arguably the country’s toughest conference was noticed nationally, and he was recognized on many levels. Check out some of the honors he received, courtesy of VUCommodores.com:
• 2015 First Team All-America (FWAA, AP, AFCA, Walter Camp, ESPN, USA Today, SI.com & more)
• 2016 Butkus Award Finalist
• 2016 Chuck Bednarik Award Semifinalist
• 2015-16 Coaches’ First Team All-SEC
• 2015-16 Associated Press First Team All-SEC
• 2016 Midseason All-America (SI.com, FOXSports.com, Sporting News, CBSSports.com)
• 2015 Phil Steele Third Team All-American
• 2015 Phil Steele First Team All-SEC
• 2015 ESPN.com First Team All-SEC
Cunningham possesses very good measurables. He is 6’3″, 234 pounds, has very long arms at 34 3/8 inches, and boy, does he use those meat hooks well.
Cunningham plays the run really well. He reads his keys quickly, gets downhill, and leads with his hands at the point of attack (POA). This is where his long arms give him the advantage. He is able to get his hands into position first, giving him the ability to stack and shed quite easily.
Against outside runs he moves very well laterally, sifts through traffic with ease, almost ‘slithering’ through the linemen climbing to the next level. Somehow, he contorts his body in ways to continue to leverage the ball, all while avoiding blocks. Then he uses his long arms to wrap up the ball carrier.
Cunningham can be relied upon to cover most tight ends and running backs. He shows good mental processing of route combinations. Teams tried to attack him several times on hitch/wheel concepts, but Cunningham shut the play down by closing the cushion and using the boundary as leverage.
He always seems to be around the ball, causing six fumbles, recovering seven, and deflecting six passes in his career. Any time he rushes the quarterback he is looking to strip him, and any time he chases a running back he is ripping at the ball, which will be loved by coaches at the next level.
A couple weaknesses of his game are his play strength and tackling technique. His frame still has plenty of room to gain a few pounds of muscle. At times, he can get outmuscled, especially if he doesn’t flash the pop with his hands to jolt linemen. He can lose leverage and ground at times at the POA, due to average lower body strength, which makes it difficult for him to anchor.
Although his tackling is rather good, overall, there are times when he is in pursuit and his tackling is high. He has a tendency to arm tackle in the shoulder region, then leave his feet and swing his weight to bring the offensive player down. This tackling technique leads to broken tackles by backs with good balance.
Overall, Cunningham is a very good player who put together an amazing college career, and I expect him to build upon his reputation at the next level.
Cover 1 grade: 78.788-2nd round
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