Name: Zach Cunningham
Position fit: Inside linebacker
Stats to know: Finished fourth in run stop percentage among all FBS inside linebackers in 2016
What he does best:
- Outstanding thumper that loves taking on and destroying blocks from linemen, tight ends and lead blockers.
- His size, physicality allow him to be effective in man coverage against tight ends/
- Has the athleticism to play the run from sideline to sideline as well as get effective depth in coverage; should not come off the field.
- Broke up seven passes on 86 targets over the last three years.
- Doesn’t vacate gap assignments by running around blocks; willing to take on, stack and shed to the ball.
- While he gave up 71.1 percent completions in 2016, the longest pass against him went for just 21 yards; only four of 57 career receptions against (86 targets) went longer than 20 yards.
- Can beat blocks to the point of attack with his combination of instincts and first-step quickness.
- Does an excellent job of finding the ball between the tackles despite constantly addressing blockers. Sifts through the trash well to get to the ball.
- Has the prerequisite height, length and build to play inside linebacker at the next level.
- Tries to tackle high far too often, leading to missed tackles that he is in position to finish; 21 missed tackles in 2016 led to him finishing 174th in tackling efficiency
- Flashes ability to but does not consistently break down in space to finish; will come up out of control at times, even when taking the proper angle
- Will at times lose his man in zone coverage by peeking in the backfield
Player comparison: Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots
Hightower is big and physical, and has the versatility to play both inside and outside. He has been a productive player for New England not just against the run, but in coverage and as a pass-rusher as well, elements that Cunningham needs to develop further for his game but has the physical and athletic capacity to do.
While Cunningham’s tackling is certainly a concern, his combination of physicality and athleticism makes him a viable every-down starter at the NFL level. He flashes the ability to square up, break down and finish open-field tackles, he too often comes up high and out of control, causing him to miss. Few inside linebackers currently in the NFL have his willingness and capability to take on and shed bigger blockers at the line of scrimmage, making him a complete linebacker prospect worthy of a mid- to late-first-round pick.