Manhattan-- With the New York Giantslikely finished spending their money on free-agents, the NFL draft is their next priority. Few problems persist on the Giant's defensive front, but there can always be upgrades, as the middle of the defense is a major question mark. With the departure of Kelvin Sheppard, and the rising of second year player B.J. Goodson, Big Blue is unproven and inexperienced at the middle linebacker position. Vanderbilt product, Zach Cunningham, stands out as a potential draft pick if available. Let's take a look at some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Weighing in at 234 lbs., and standing tall at 6'3" is the Vanderbilt product, Cunningham, known for his play-making abilities and consistent turnover production. He has great vision and is eager to make initial contact on short yardage plays. He plays downhill and shoots the gap with extreme speed and force, allowing for other defenders to come to his aid. Cunningham has a unique ability to feel out potential blockers and can avoid blocks at the second level. His incredible vision enables him to deconstruct plays and meet runners at the point of attack. His arm length offers substantial tackling advantages, and can wrap up defenders on initial impact. Cunningham is an envied play-maker, consistently forcing turnovers and recovering loose fumbles. His long strides allow him to run between sidelines at a incredible pace, as shown in his 4.67 40-yard dash. His best attribute is his diversified skill set, enabling him to man cover and shoot the gap to contain running backs and mobile quarterbacks. His natural instincts are top-tier as he consistently limits yards after catch, and can read the quarterback's eyes in anticipation of throws. The durability Cunningham brings to the table is essential, as he can play aggressively consistently, which is crucial in the NFL against the big boys.
The list of weaknesses is short and concise, as Cunningham's biggest downfall is hid angular build and lanky legs. The lack of power produced through his lower body is his main issue, but with the help of NFL fitness staffers, he should be able to put a few extra pounds of muscle onto his legs. He tends to play behind his shoulders which forces him to throw his body at runners instead of using his hands to absorb the impact. Due to his lack of balance and size he is easily engaged and taken out of plays when met with a superior blocker. Technique needs to be refined, as he tends to attack players up high, often sliding off and missing would-be tackles. With improved lower body power and balance, Cunningham has all of mental attributes to become a dominant linebacker in the NFL.
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As the draft nears, the Giants are left considering all of the holes they need to fill. The first and foremost priority should be the offensive line, but as we know, defense wins championships, so don't rule out the possibility to taking Cunningham with the 23rd pick. His instincts and mental attributes point towards him being a big-time play maker, but his lean frame is a concern, which might I add, can be resolved by a few extra protein shakes.