OVERVIEW (5.94 Rating)
Alabama may have overlooked Cunningham in the recruiting process due to his lean frame (he had 194 tackles, 41 for loss, 12 sacks as the state's 5A Lineman of the Year in 2012), but NFL scouts won't. He started the final five games of the year for the Commodores as a redshirt freshman (67 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5), and then starting the final nine in 2015, eventually leading the team in tackles for loss (16.5) and forced fumbles (four) in a first-team All-SEC effort. Cunningham led Vandy with 125 tackles in another first-team all-conference season, with 16.5 tackles for loss. He also garnered first-team Associated Press All-American honors as a junior, proving his explosion on the national college football scene.
STRENGTHS Play-making machine. Plays on a downhill tilt and is always looking to draw first blood. Fast to see it, process and respond. Creates tackles for losses by shooting gaps at appropriate angles. Has a good feel for blockers and uses varied speeds and subtle upper body turns to avoid blockers on second level. Quick in his lateral scrape and races ahead of blockers. Keeps play-side shoulder uncovered when flowing to the ball. Football magnet with outstanding tackle production and ability to create and recover turnovers. Rangy long strider with instincts and play speed to carry him from sideline to sideline in search of the ball. Has extended tackle radius. Durable and reliable. Has the athleticism and awareness to handle man coverage responsibilities against running backs and tight ends. Quick to trigger on throws from zone and limit yards after catch.
WEAKNESSES Angular build with high waist and skinny legs. Lack of power in his lower body creates issues with contact balance for him. Plays behind his shoulder rather than behind his hands in take-on situations. Can get entangled against size and slow to disengage. Doesn't have play strength to fight past angle blocks once they land. Will need to work to keep shoulders squared in his attack. Leveraging his gap and standing his ground could be a challenge. Not a banger or a bend-and-strike finisher. Tends to attack ball carriers up high rather than down low and will slide off of too many would-be tackles.
SOURCES TELL US "He needs to be uncovered so he can fly around and just go get the ball. He didn't have much help over there and he took it upon himself to make as many plays as possible. I love that mindset." AFC East regional scout
NFL COMPARISON Alec Ogletree
BOTTOM LINE Cunningham's missed tackles and lack of desired play strength could bother teams, but his consistent production is hard to ignore. Cunningham is a rangy, three-down linebacker who has a nose for the ball and special teams value. His downhill approach is made for attacking 4-3 defenses and Cunningham could become a good, early starter as a run-and-chase weak-side linebacker.