Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham possesses the ideal skillset for the modern NFL defender.
School: Vanderbilt Ht: 6-3 Wt: 230
Cunningham is highly instinctive and active around the ball. He diagnoses quickly and flies to the football. As his body has filled out, Cunningham has improved at taking on blocks and disengaging promptly. He uses his hands well fighting off blocks and extends his long arms to keep blockers off of his body. Does a solid job wading through traffic despite long legs. He is fluid and aware in space, allowing to be an effective pass defender. He changes direction well for a man of his size, showing light feet and loose hips. He possesses the range to beat backs to the edge, as well as exciting closing speed while in pursuit and coverage.
Cunningham could still stand to get a bit stronger, especially in regards to finishing tackles. He allows a few too many ball carriers to slip out of his grasp at the point of attach. He has a tendency to lower his head and lose sight of his intended target. He has a long, lanky frame that often results in playing with a high pad level. Cunningham doesn’t show much effectiveness as a pass rusher, mostly due to lack of technique and functional strength.
Cunningham will be in a battle with Alabama’s Reuben Foster as the top linebacker in the 2017 NFL Draft. He will be attractive to all teams, as he can fit in any defensive scheme. With his range and speed, he will also be a core special teams contributor early in his career. An All-SEC selection the past two seasons, Cunningham should be the first Commodore defensive player to be drafted in the first round since 1984.
Keith Bulluck (retired)
Mid to late round 1