Over the next few months, we’ll be looking at prospects in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft from a decidedly Cowboys point of view. Taking the Cowboys current personnel, draft position, scheme, and needs into consideration; defensive line, linebacker, defensive backs, as well as complementary offensive pieces at wide receiver, tight end, and perhaps right tackle, we hope to profile the majority of the potential prospects that could realistically end up as Cowboys within the first two rounds. Once the “official visits” start to leak we’ll add prospects that are possibilities in the later rounds.
#41 - Zach Cunningham - Linebacker - Vanderbilt - 6-4, 230
Games Watched: Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, N.C. State
Pros: Excellent size and length with a frame that could easily add weight without sacrificing speed. Intimidating physical presence at times in the run game with excellent range and closing speed. Impressive strength and pop to jolt offensive linemen back in the run game, very strong hands to stack/shed, explosive and physical when attacking the run downhill. Effective blitzer, projects well in that regard with his combination of size, strength, and speed. Flexible in tight spaces with the ability to bend and beat offensive linemen to the spot. Rare to see this type of sideline-to-sideline speed and overall athleticism in a linebacker this size. Projects well to any 4-3 linebacker position due to his combination of size, speed, length, and athleticism.
Cons: Extremely poor tackling technique/form where he doesn’t wrap up and simply tries to arm tackle, resulting in way too many missed tackles on routine plays where ball carriers will slide off him and gain extra yards. Relies too much on his power in going for knockout/highlight hits. Tends to tackle high and grabs at players instead of getting low and running through ball carriers. Over-pursues far too often and loses gap integrity, doesn’t look very instinctive as far as being able to quickly diagnose plays or taking the proper angles. Looks a bit stiff and not very fluid in his coverage drops at times, he generally seems to have the athleticism and length to be able to hold up in short middle zones in the NFL but I think his coverage ability is overstated. Could struggle if asked to cover NFL RB’s and TE’s in man coverage due to mechanical change of direction in space downfield. Disappears for long stretches, even entire games (bowl game vs. N.C. State).
Conclusion: The potential for this player is through the roof due to his rare combination of size, speed, and athleticism. At times he looks like a future All-Pro but in my personal opinion he is entirely too inconsistent and disappears far too often to make me feel comfortable with taking him at 28. He consistently runs himself out of plays and misses easy tackles, which are two cardinal sins of the linebacker position. If he takes to coaching and has the drive to be great there is almost no ceiling for him, but that’s not a risk that I want to take in the first round when you consider the fact that linebacker is not an overly pressing need for the team.
I understand the intrigue behind a player with his physical gifts, but this draft class is far too strong at positions of far more pressing need for me to take a player that is this inconsistent at 28. Of course he would be a strong consideration if available in the second round.
I do not have access to coach’s film or anything of that nature, I just watch plenty of football (television broadcast version) and go off what I see out of a prospect. I started this odd fascination of mine in 2011 when I sent my breakdown and links to videos of Tyron Smith at USC to the excellent Cowboys blogger Bob Sturm (April 28, 2011 - Even More Tyron Smith Tape). Since then I’ve continued watching prospects closely, but I’ve never taken the initiative to actually formally write my thoughts until I became a writer for BTB. I hope that I can provide an interesting, and accurate perspective on prospects from a Cowboys-centric point of view.
Special thanks to DraftBreakdown for posting the videos that help provide a more in-depth look at this year’s prospects.