A good linebacker is hard to find.
It’s fairly obvious looking at the New York Giants’ draft history that they haven’t put emphasis on the linebacker position in a long time, long predating Jerry Reese’s tenure as general manager. However, it’s also true that the demands on a modern linebacker make finding a true “Three Down” linebacker difficult in this day and age. At some point a “three down” player will need to have the size and strength to take on blockers and win in the run game, the athleticism to play in space against freakish offensive athletes, the explosiveness to come down as a pass rusher, and the football IQ (or instincts) to properly diagnose deceptive offensive concepts.
Players that have that broad a skill-set are few and far between, which is one reason why defenses are so dependent on sub-packages to adapt to the offense. That being said, finding a three-down linebacker gives the defense a tremendous amount of flexibility. Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham has a reputation as a play-maker, but does he have what it takes to never come off the field as a pro?
- Consistently productive player.
- Fluid mover with good range in space suggests plus athleticism.
- High football IQ and shows solid instincts. Rarely seems to take a false step.
- Good length with great size for the position.
- Appears comfortable in coverage.
- Plays the run well, flashes the ability to stack and shed blockers.
- Needs to develop more as a pass rusher.
- Tackling is inconsistent and occasionally misses tackles he should make.
- Can let pad level rise, losing leverage.
- Not often used as a pass rusher, just six sacks in three years.
Does He Fit With The Giants?
Cunningham is a three-down outside linebacker, so he does fit the Giants. He looks like a natural fit as a WILL linebacker in a 4-3 front, where he can use his range in coverage as well as ability to come down, navigate the trash, and play the run.
Though often mis-cast as an inside linebacker in Vandy’s defense, Cunningham played the position well enough, showing solid football IQ and the strength to stack and shed blocks. He doesn’t have much production as a pass rusher, but his athleticism suggests that he can be a solid option blitzing despite his inexperience.
Big Board Rankings
Big Blue View - 27th overall
CBS Sports - 36th overall
Draft Countdown - 48th overall
Draft Tek - 53rd overall
If a 4-3 team is looking for a true three-down linebacker, there aren’t many options to pick from in the 2017 NFL Draft. As strong as the edge rusher and secondary classes are, the linebacker class is a bit mediocre. Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham is one of the best, and has the skillset to be an instant contributor at the next level. He was seldom used as a pass rusher, which could drop his stock some in the eyes of the NFL, which tends to prefer highly drafted linebackers have pass-rushing upside.