Lions Draft Prospect: LB Zach Cunningham – Vanderbilt
By Matt Urben
With the 2017 NFL Draft still more than a few weeks away, there are dozens of potential targets for the Detroit Lions with the 21st pick of the first-round. Based on recent projections, along with team need, I will be highlighting individual players whom the team could be interested in. Today, we examine one of the best college linebackers in the country.
Draft Profile: LB Zach Cunningham – Vanderbilt
Size: 6-foot-3, 234 Lbs
Analysis: Zach Cunningham was a productive “play-making machine” at linebacker for Vanderbilt over the past two seasons. He led the entire S.E.C. in tackles in 2016, finishing with 16.5 tackles for a loss. He’s athletic, durable, rangy, and plays with an aggressive, downhill style.
Cunningham is an intelligent player that instinctually flies to the ball. Scouts say he doesn’t have great lower core strength, and can occasionally get wiped out by bigger linemen. He doesn’t get off blocks as quick as you’d like, but he can improve in that area with NFL coaching.
Cunningham isn’t great in coverage, however, is considered more than competent when given man coverage responsibilities. If you keep it simple with him and just let him make plays, he can have an impact as a rookie.
Why He Makes Sense For Lions: Detroit cut bait with former tackling-machine, linebacker DeAndre Levy last week, and now have a huge need at the LB position. They only have one sure-fire starter, middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead. In a draft full of tweeners and outside linebacker/defensive end hybrids, Zach Cunningham is a true linebacker, ideally suited for Detroit’s attacking 4-3 defense.
Cunningham would seem to be an ideal replacement for Levy, given his play-making ability and versatility. He played inside linebacker in college but many view him as more of an outside, 4-3 linebacker in the NFL. Could he start in the middle for Detroit? That’s a possibility, as many consider Tahir Whitehead a better fit on the outside.
Cunningham has the speed to play either spot and could possibly move around as needed like the Lions did with Levy earlier in his career. Cunningham’s draft availability somewhat depends on Reuben Foster, Alabama’s linebacker — who’s also projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first. Take a look at some highlights from his play-making, college career below.
Check out other Lions prospect profiles: Christian McCaffrey, Malik McDowell, T.J. Watt, Derek Barnett & Cam Robinson. Make sure to Like SideLion Report on Facebook and follow Matt on Twitter @MattUrben88