The NFL Draft is just over three weeks away and draft boards are still fairly fluid since teams are still making moves in free agency and still conducting pre-draft interviews.
The Dolphins’ draft board changed a bit with the re-signing of right guard Jermon Bushrod as well as the signing of offensive lineman Ted Larsen, who also has experience playing guard.
Those moves essentially shore up the offensive line – for now – and subtracts some of the pressure for the team use a higher draft pick on a big man for the offensive front.
Miami also took a step forward with its defensive backfield by signing former Raiders safety Nate Allen and former Rams safety T.J. McDonald both to 1-year deals. Both are serviceable veterans that can contribute positively, the only caveat with McDonald is that he will be suspended for the first eight games of the 2017 season.
So now, drafting a safety has become more of a luxury rather than a necessity.
This mock draft will be updated again prior to the NFL Draft (April 27-29).
Round One – 22nd Overall
Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt (6-foot-3, 234 pounds)
The Dolphins have done a lot to improve their linebacker corps this offseason – re-signing Kiko Alonso and signing Lawrence Timmons away from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But there is still a spot left open in the base three-man group.
Miami drafting Zach Cunningham at No. 22 hits a lot of check marks.
He fills a position of need, he is a player that has the tools to be a year-one impact player – if not a full-on starter as a rookie – and he is a “safe pick” in that he is a smart guy who should be a model citizen within the organization.
Cunningham’s resume is quite impressive.
He’s a freakish athlete, given his long frame and his 4.67 40 time. He also recorded 35-inch vertical leap and a 125-inch broad jump. Cunningham also turned those God-given gifts into on-field production.
As a junior, Cunningham led Vandy with 125 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. Those numbers earned him his second first-team all-SEC honor of his career as well as him being named a first-team Associated Press All-American.
Plainly, Cunningham is a playmaker.
He didn’t have a lot of help overall on Vanderbilt’s defense, so that made him almost relentless in his effort to make every positive play possible.
Though he played inside linebacker for the Commodores, Cunningham has the athleticism and range to be a plug-and-play outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme – roaming sideline to sideline for tackles and being solid in pass coverage.
He plays downhill and does a good job of shooting gaps to reach ball carriers in the backfield. He always seems to be around the ball and when he makes a tackle, he delivers a “pop” and will create fumbles – evident by the eight fumbles he forced in his career.
He can stand to get stronger – only posted 15 reps of 225 pounds at the combine – but there are zero health concerns that come along with Cunningham, another plus for a first round pick.
Cunningham would also upgrade the Fins linebackers’ room because he offers position versatility. Where Timmons is great against the run and great at being a leader of the defense, Cunningham could shift inside on true passing downs along with serving as a pass rusher in hybrid formations.