By Zach Bingham
It’s official. Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham is going to the NFL.
— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) January 15, 2017
This comes as no surprise, after the season Cunningham had for Vanderbilt. He’s already being projected as a 1st round pick, and his stock is at an all time high.
But let’s talk about the future and what Cunningham could become.
The greatest trait Cunningham possesses is his ability to take down the opposition. This season, he led the SEC in tackles with 125 and had seven games with double-digit take downs. 71 of those tackles were solo and 16.5 were for loss, to go along with two forced fumbles.
When finding the next great inside linebacker, NFL GM’s salivate over smart, fast defensive players who can slice through the line and attack. Cunningham has all of these characteristics and did well against SEC opponents all season.
Whether he was jumping over the line against Auburn to block a field goal, or wrapping up Georgia running back Isaiah McKenzie to win the game, Cunningham is going to help a pro franchise tremendously next season and for years to come.
Cunningham the greatest ‘Dore ever?
Jay Cutler, Bill Wade, Jordan Matthews, Earl Bennett, Zac Stacy, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Mack Brown are a few names of great Vandy football players, but I believe Cunningham has the ability to surpass them all.
- 2016 Unanimous All-American honors
- 2015 First Team All-America (FWAA, AP, AFCA, Walter Camp, ESPN, 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, First Team All-SEC
- 2015 ESPN.com First Team All-SEC
These are all of the accomplishments Cunningham has racked up in just the last two years. One man who made this possible is head coach Derek Mason. He gave Cunningham the freedom to roam and lead Vanderbilt’s defense to be a feared unit.
Another reason Cunningham sets up well to thrive in the NFL is his speed. The great linebackers in todays game all have the quickness and agility to not only make the tackle, but also drop back in coverage to defend against the pass.
Look at Cunningham’s ability to close on the ball to make the play 20 yards from the line of scrimmage last year against Western Kentucky.
It’s that kind of savviness in the passing game that makes Panthers inside linebacker Luke Kuechly one of the best in the game.
This is all predicated, though, on which team selects Zach Cunningham in the Draft. The situation you are placed in is so vital to a player’s success. Right now, draft analysts have him project as a mid to late 1st round pick. The one thing that would push Cunningham into the 2nd round or later would be his size. He’s a tall, 6’4″ linebacker that plays at 230 lbs. With the rigors of a long 16 game schedule, NFL teams like their linebackers to be fast but also be durable.
If Cunningham can keep up the pace that he is on in the pros, He may go down as the greatest Vanderbilt Commodore to ever play the sport.
It’s not that far fetched.