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Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham looks to become a household name in 2016

In his junior year, can Cunningham ensure that Vanderbilt’s defense becomes a feared group in the Southeastern Conference?

Kentucky v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

While the Vanderbilt Commodores may not have had a banner year in 2015, fans, players, and coaches alike were treated to excellent performance after excellent performance from sophomore linebacker Zach Cunningham.

Despite being the most dominant player on Vanderbilt’s defense last season, Cunningham’s name might not register to most people unless they happen to be a Commodores fan or the fan of a team that was unfortunate enough to play against him. Because of his consistently impressive play last year, it is rather unfortunate that Zach Cunningham isn’t quite yet a household name in the SEC, let alone across the country.

This season, Zach Cunningham is looking to change all of that.

After racking up over 100 tackles and forcing 3 fumbles in his sophomore season, Zach Cunningham is ready to try and elevate the Commodores to a higher level in the Southeastern Conference in 2016. As the unquestioned leader of what will be a veteran Commodores defense, Cunningham will try and improve upon what was a dismal 2-6 record in the SEC.

Perhaps the biggest reason why Cunningham saw such a great level of success was his unrelenting athleticism, a trait necessary in a conference full of defensive standouts and future draft picks. That much is made clear after watching highlights of Cunningham from last season’s matchup with Texas A&M, a game in which he amassed 14 tackles and a forced a fumble, all while Vanderbilt suffered a 25-0 drubbing (those highlights can be found at the end of this post).

What makes Cunningham’s sheer athleticism and speed impressive is the fact that, when compared to many other top linebackers in the SEC, he has a decent size advantage (not to mention the fact that he’s also a few inches taller than many of his contemporaries). It’s that size that enables him to be more than a one-note defender, as he is constantly a threat to break up passes further down the field than many linebackers would be willing (or able) to travel to. Cunningham’s size and speed also enables him to be a potent run stopper, as he’s actually able to keep up with many agile running backs. His indefatigable spirit and versatility enable are what simply makes him better than most other SEC counterparts of his.

After examining all the facts, there’s no doubt that 2016 will be very kind to Cunningham, who will hopefully break through and gain some name recognition and respect among the casual fans in the SEC who didn’t watch a whole lot of Vanderbilt football last year. By the time November 27th rolls around and the Commodores have just played their last game of the season, don’t be surprised at all if Zach Cunningham is not only known as the best linebacker in the Southeastern Conference, but also as Vanderbilt’s first All-American defensive player since Casey Hayward in 2011.